White House staffers and guests are bracing for a change in policy that will ban personal cell phone use in the West Wing. The ban imposed by Chief of Staff John Kelly, a former Marine General, likely stems from his own experience with security practices that are widely enforced at U.S. military bases around the world. Within the Department of Defense, personal communication devices are not permitted in areas where secret or top-secret information is stored or transmitted. This often includes entire buildings, not just certain rooms within a building.
Servicemen, servicewomen, and DoD contractors with a clearance are very familiar with the practice of placing cell phones in storage bins before entering a restricted area. Many buildings require personal communication devices to be left in personally owned vehicles (POV), not inside the building at all. White House staff have reportedly been notified of this intent within the past year but the policy hasn’t been strictly enforced until now. Some staffers are reportedly complaining about the resulting limited ability to communicate with their families during the work day.
It is common in much of today’s workplace for employees to text friends and family, browse social media, or send emails from personal accounts. But within the DoD that is not the case. Many media outlets are also seemingly upset with this change in policy, as reflected in their unfavorable coverage, as it will have a significant impact on their ability to receive real-time updates and leaks from their sources.
The reasons for the cell phone ban include a combination of implementing common security best-practices in the interest of National Security, and the White House protecting their own best-interests by limiting information leaks by their staff to news outlets. Even when turned off, without the battery being removed, a cell phone can still be hacked so that an attacker can gain access to information on the network the phone is connected to. Most shocking is that an attacker can even hack the phone to listen to real-time conversations near to the cell phone. Modern cell phones do not offer the ability to conveniently remove the battery as could be done with flip phones. Most service members with clearances will have had this explained to them the first time they are instructed to leave their phones in the lobby of a secured-network room or building or their POV.
Considering that this type of security policy is so common throughout the Department of Defense, it is no doubt shocking to many DoD personnel to only now see it implemented in the West Wing. Granted these devices were on an unclassified network, but it had to be a security nightmare for the Information Technology/Security team at the White House up to this point as they tried to manage such a sensitive network with so many personal devices traversing it. In following security industry best-practices, General Kelly’s directive for an added layer of security will no doubt limit the risk for sensitive information being leaked from the West Wing.
*Featured image courtesy of AP Images (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)