White House bans personal mobile phones from West Wing
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The White House has announced a total ban on the use of personal mobile phones within the West Wing for all staff and visitors, starting immediately, citing security concerns.
Announcing the decision, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, “The security and integrity of the technology systems at the White House is a top priority for the Trump administration and therefore, starting next week, the use of all personal devices for both guests and staff will no longer be allowed in the West Wing.”
Sanders clarified the decision, saying: “Staff will be able to conduct business on their government-issued devices and continue working hard on behalf of the American people”. It is not known how these “goverment-issued devices” are differentiated from personal ones.
The ban on personal phones does not apply to the President, Donald Trump, a person close to the administration said, but it will apply to every top official working in the White House.
The proposal to ban all personal phones has apparently been floating around the White House for many months, but has never been introduced until now. Chief of staff John Kelly is believed to have first proposed the ban when he joined the administration in July 2017.
In her statement, Sanders did not clarify why the ban has been introduced now. She confirmed that the decision has been in the works for the last six months and that the White House has been looking for ways to allow White House officials to use “other applications” on their phones that still ensure compliance with the Presidential Records Act.
Although Sanders stated in her announcement that the ban on personal mobile phones would begin “next week”, according to White House staff there has been no internal guidance as yet on the policy or how to ensure compliance, nor any indications as to what would be considered a violation of the policy and what any repercussions might entail.
Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer is known to have unofficially routinely reviewed the personal phones of his immediate staff reports, explicitly to check that they weren't talking to reporters following a string of information leaks. He also told staff that the use of encrypted messaging apps was a violation of the Federal Records Act.
Staff have already voiced their concerns and frustrations about the imminent ban, most notably the need to keep in touch with friends and family when working 12-hour days in the office. One source, who wished to remain anonymous, told CNN that “no one is happy” with the decision, adding that no one inside the West Wing believes the official explanation that the ban is for reasons of national security.
Rather, most people believe the ban is in fact a concerted effort to control information leaks to reporters. The ban comes at a time when President Trump is incandescent with fury over the imminent release of a tell-all book by author Michael Wolff - “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” - early excerpts from which have laid bare Trump's first "chaotic" year in office and the dysfunction and infighting inside the administration. Trump has already issued a cease-and-desist order to Wolff and publicly lambasted the book as being “full of lies”, tweeting that it was a “phony book!”
However, the book includes comments drawn from over 200 interviews with Trump himself and many members of his senior staff over the course of 18 months, most notably - and explosively, for Trump - with former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, whose anecdotes about the President are not at all flattering.