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White House is said to weigh personal mobile phone ban for staff

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WASHINGTON — The White House may ban its employees from using personal mobile phones at work, raising concerns among staff that they’ll be cut off from family and friends, according to five administration officials.

President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained about press leaks since taking office, but one official said the potential change isn’t connected to concerns about unauthorized disclosures to news organizations.

The proposed ban is instead driven by cybersecurity concerns. One official said there are too many devices connected to the campus wireless network and that personal phones aren’t as secure as those issued by the federal government.

The officials requested anonymity because the proposal is not final.

The White House already takes precautions with personal wireless devices, including by requiring officials to leave phones in cubbies outside of meeting rooms where sensitive or classified information is discussed. 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.

Some staffers worry a ban could result in disruptive unintended consequences.

Mobile devices issued by the White House aren’t able to send text messages, creating a hardship 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.

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.
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.

Security priorities may override those concerns. 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.

In October, Politico reported that White House officials believed the personal mobile phone of chief of staff John Kelly had been compromised for months, raising the prospect that 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 cyberattack.

In the early months of the administration, former White House press secretary 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.

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