Just a couple of weeks ago, the U.S. Senate started serving its complete domain, including all the websites of the 100 current senators, over an encrypted HTTPS channel by default. Now the Senate has approved the chat app Signal for official use by Senate staff members. Such a move by the U.S. Senate underscores the importance of cyber-security.
U.S. Senate approves Signal
Thanks to several governmental cyber-attacks and DNC (Democratic National Committee) leaks, the U.S. Senate is taking cyber-security much more seriously than it did before. The Signal chat app is considered to be one of the safest and most secure chat apps worldwide, and it is often endorsed by security and privacy advocates, including Edward Snowden. People close to the New York governor and NYC mayor are also avid users of the chat app, according to ZDNet.
Recently, Senate Sergeant at Arms Frank J. Larkin and his team completed encryption of all the Senators’ websites and approved Signal for official use by Senate staff members as well. The decision received praise from Sen. Ron Wyden, who applauded the decision via a letter saying that allowing the use of an encrypted messaging app is one of many “important defensive cybersecurity” measures introduced in the chamber.
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In the letter, Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon who’s also a privacy and encryption advocate, disclosed that Larkin’s office had given the secure chat app Signal its seal of approval.
“With the transition to default HTTPS for all of the other Senate websites and the recent announcement by your office that the end-to-end encrypted messaging app Signal is approved for Senate staff use, I am happy to see that you too recognize the important defensive cyber-security role that encryption can play,” the letter read.
The letter was sent by the encryption advocate on May 9, but the staff members were first allowed to use the application for official business as early as March. According to ZDNet, the policy change went into effect then.
Growing importance of cyber-security
After the hacks that hit the Democratic National Committee during last year’s election season, many in politics, including many people in different branches of the government (federal and local) have taken cyber-security quite seriously. Many government sites are now served over a secure connection.
The news that the existing administration approved the chat app for official use should come as a surprise for many. In February, House Republicans Lamar Smith and Darin LaHood demanded an investigation into the use of secure chat apps by EPAs to secretly express their dissatisfaction with the policies of President Donald Trump.
House Republicans said that encrypted conversations can “run afoul” of the government’s record-keeping rules, notes Engadget. The National Archives and Records Administration told ZDNet that Senate staff members are exempt from those rules as long as they do not use encrypted apps for anything that is considered “historically valuable.”
However, if the Senate comes up with rules ordering tech companies to grant law enforcement agencies access to encrypted information, it could undermine their staffers’ use of Signal.