In Focus: White House May Ban Personal Phones

Aliah D. Wright By Aliah D. Wright December 1, 2017
In Focus: White House May Ban Personal Phones

Citing concerns about cybersecurity, the White House may bar its employees from using their personal smartphones while they're at work, according to news reports.

At least one official says there are too many personal devices connected to the wireless network and that phones issued by the federal government are more secure than the personal smartphones employees carry. The ban would impact each person working in the Executive Office of the President.

News reports also say the ban was proposed by White House Chief of Staff John Kelly. His personal mobile phone was compromised by cybercriminals earlier this year.


Leaks Not an Issue

President Donald Trump has complained that members of his staff were leaking damaging information about his administration to the press.

In February, the president's lawyers began conducting random phone checks of White House staffers. In an emergency meeting, White House staffers were asked to place their cellphones on a table for a "phone check," so they could prove they did not have unsanctioned correspondence with members of the press. They were warned, too, that using texting apps like Snapchat, Confide or Wickr, which automatically delete texts after they are sent, violated the Presidential Records Act.

But officials speaking anonymously said banning staff from using their mobile devices had nothing to do with unsanctioned revelations to news outlets.

Too many smartphones connected to the White House's wireless network were making that network less secure.

(SHRM Online)

[SHRM members-only toolkit: 
Managing Workplace Monitoring and Surveillance]

Fearful of Scrutiny

Smartphones that are distributed by the White House do not have texting capabilities. People using the White House's computer networks are unable to access Gmail, Google Hangouts and other sites online.

Meanwhile, staff inside the White House have raised concerns that if they are unable to use their personal mobile devices, they will be cut off from friends and family.

What's more, they are concerned that they may be suspected of utilizing government property to make important personal or private calls, and that calls they make on government-issued phones may one day be made public because of record-keeping practices.

Employers need specific policies that address company expectations about employee behaviors, including when workers are using their own devices, said Washington, D.C.-based attorney Hope Eastman, co-chair of the employment law practice of Paley Rothman Attorneys at Law, which is headquartered in Bethesda, Md.

She said that under most circumstances it isn't illegal for an employer to monitor their employees' e-mail and Internet activity.

Employers, including the White House, should develop their own 'bring your own device' (BYOD) policies. She said the law is in flux as the courts begin to grapple with this issue. Policies should provide that personal devices used under BYOD can be searched by employers either during their employment or termination.

 (SHRM Online, Newsweek)

Trump Will Likely Keep His Phone

The proposed ban is in sharp contrast to the President's own use of a smart device. As Newsweek reported, "Trump's frequent and often fiery messages from his personal Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, reportedly come from his personal Android phone."

And, according to the Associated Press, Trump raised concerns over security earlier this spring when he gave out his personal smartphone number to world leaders in Canada, France and Mexico, a clear break with diplomatic practices.

"The notion of world leaders calling each other up via cellphone may seem unremarkable in the modern, mobile world," AP reported. "But in the diplomatic arena, where leader-to-leader calls are highly orchestrated affairs, it is another notable breach of protocol for a president who has expressed distrust of official channels."

(Associated Press)

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