The White House is banning the use of personal cell phones within the West Wing, citing security concerns, a move that has prompted widespread frustration amongst staffers.
“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,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement Thursday morning.
Sanders said staff will continue be able to conduct business on government-issued devices.
The ban on personal cell phones does not apply to the President, a person familiar with the decision says.
The decision to ban personal cell phones had been under discussion for months, but never executed. It’s an idea chief of staff John Kelly floated when he first entered the administration in July, but had not decided to enforce until now. It’s unclear why the policy was announced this week.
The standard is expected to apply to everyone — including top officials like Hope Hicks — one person familiar with the decision tells CNN.
The policy has drawn the ire of those it will affect, with several staffers questioning how they are expected to stay in touch with their families while working 12-hour days.
One source close to the White House said “no one is happy” with the decision, adding that no one inside the West Wing believes the official explanation that the cell phone ban is for national security reasons. Instead, it’s all about limiting leaks to reporters, this source said.
Another source close to White House said the policy is aimed at stopping leaking from inside the West Wing.
“It’s not about being secure. It’s about being suspicious,” the source said.
Pressed Thursday, Sanders insisted again that the ban is “about the security and integrity about the technology over here at the White House,” and not about leaks from inside the White House.
Sanders said the decision to ban staffers from using personal cell phones in the West Wing has been in the works for the past six months. During that period, Sanders said the White House has looked for ways to increase White House officials’ ability to use “other applications” on their phones and to ensure compliance with the Presidential Records Act.
In the early months of the Trump administration, former White House press secretary Sean Spicer reviewed his aides’ personal and government-issued cell phones in an effort to ensure they weren’t privately communicating with reporters amid a series of information leaks. He also informed staff that the use of encrypted messaging apps, like Signal and Confide, was a violation of the Federal Records Act.
Though Sanders said the phone ban will begin “starting next week,” there has not yet been internal guidance on the policy, and it’s still unclear when it will take effect. Some staffers are also still wondering whether there will be any exemptions and what the consequences would be for violating the personal cell phone ban.