White House May Ban Staff From Using Mobile Phones

As part of Donald Trump's ongoing quest to halt leaks from within his administration, the White House may ban its employees from using personal mobile phones while at work. The move is expected to "raise concerns among staff including that they’ll be cut off from family and friends" according to five administration officials who leaked the proposed ban to Bloomberg, probably on their mobile phones.

While the idea was spun as being driven by cybersecurity concerns - with one official telling Bloomberg that there are too many devices connected to the campus wireless network raising security concerns - the real motive is likely simpler: with President Trump repeatedly complaining about press leaks since taking office, this may be just the next draconian step in eliminating unsupervised points of contact with the outside world. Mobile phone security has been a persistent issue for the White House, and at times some top officials have also worried about staff using their personal devices to communicate with news reporters, Bloomberg reported.

The proposal would be an escalation of existing anti-leak policies as the White House already takes precautions with personal wireless devices, including "requiring officials to leave phones in cubbies outside of meeting rooms where sensitive or classified information is discussed." Additionally, since mobile devices issued by the White House aren’t able to send text messages, this is said to create hardships for staff who say texting is often the easiest way for their families to reach them in the middle of a busy day of meetings. Other staff are concerned that they could be accused of wasting government resources if they use White House-issued phones to place personal calls.

It was not clear if the phone calls placed on the White House phones are recorded.

Furthermore, the White House computer network already blocks employees from accessing certain websites, including Gmail and Google Hangouts, "meaning that without personal devices officials could be cut off from their personal email accounts throughout work day."

The immediate response to the idea was not favorable:

People opposed to the idea also note that government record-keeping requirements mean that records of personal calls placed to and from a work mobile phone would be archived and eventually made public.

However, security priorities may override those concerns. As Politico reported in October, White House officials believed the personal mobile phone of chief of staff John Kelly had been compromised for months, raising the prospect that Russia foreign adversaries may have gained access to data on the device. Staffers were also instructed not to use their personal or regular work mobile phones during President Donald Trump’s trip to China earlier this month. Instead, they were assigned “burner” phones in case they became compromised by a cyber attack.

The latest proposal is merely an escalation of a previous idea pitched by the former White House press secretary: as reported at the time, In the early months of the administration, Sean Spicer demanded members of his staff turn over their mobile phones for random checks to see if they had leaked damaging information to the media. Spicer warned his staff that using encrypted messaging apps like Signal and Confide were violations of the Presidential Records Act.

To date, there has been no public information of a White House staffer getting caught leaking confidential information using personal cell phones or otherwise.

The idea may not go far: according to Bloomberg, top officials haven’t yet decided whether or when to impose the ban, and if it would apply to all staff in the executive office of the president.