Initially, it was believed that the White House’s new policy would only ban personal cell phones. However, on Wednesday, Chief of Staff John Kelly issued a memo (obtained by ABC News) banning the use of personal cell phones and smartwatches as well within the White House West Wing complex.
What’s banned in White House West Wing now?
The new White House internal memo outlines what’s allowed and what’s not allowed into the West Wing. The memo states that any gadget or personal device that could connect with the outside world is not allowed. The list of banned devices includes laptops, smartwatches and “devices with WiFi, Bluetooth, radio, or cellular capabilities.” Further, according to the memo, “any portable device that emits an electric signal and was not issued by the White House Communications Agency,” is also banned.
Along with the smartphones, the security policy issued by Kelly extends to tablets and smartwatches, such as the Apple Watch and iPad. The ban also includes fitness trackers as they make use of Bluetooth.
According to ABC News, the new policy will take effect on the 16th of January. The new policy aims to “protect White House information technology infrastructure from compromise and sensitive or classified information from unauthorized access or dissemination,” the memo says.
The new policy to ban personal cell phones has been under discussion for the past several months, but was never executed. Previously the staff was warned against the use of personal cell phones for official work. However, the new policy outlines the formal policy including the disciplinary actions for staff breaking the rules.
Aims to prevent leaks
The new policy is largely believed to have been issued to prevent leaks out of the White House West Wing. However, press secretary Sarah Sanders does not agree with that. Last week, Sanders said the new ban is not related to leaks to the press, or even the revelations in Michael Wolff’s book Fire & Fury.
“Absolutely not. That’s a ridiculous characterization. This is about the security and the integrity of the technology systems here at the White House,” Sanders said, according to ABC News.
One senior White House official, however, told ABC News: “It’s designed to prevent leaks and ensure the productivity of the people who work here.”
Talking of physical areas that the new White House policy covers, the memo clears that the “West Wing” in this case covers the facility between the West Executive Drive and the President’s Executive Residence. This exempts any outdoor common area like the North Lawn media positions or the Rose Garden, any White House Press Corps work spaces and the press briefing room.
The staff working in the West Wing has been advised to either leave their devices at home, or in their vehicles, or in their non-West Wing offices. Further, the staff can also use the lockers available for keeping the prohibited device. As of now, it is not clear if the President is also covered under the new policy. However, a person familiar with the decision previously told CNN that the new rule does not apply to the President, but could apply to top officials like Hope Hicks.