The White House has banned the use of personal devices by staff and visitors to the West Wing, according to a statement issued by White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Thursday morning.
“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. Staff will be able to conduct business on their government-issued devices and continue working hard on behalf of the American people,” Sanders said.
While the White House cited cybersecurity concerns as a rationale for the ban, the timing of the statement raises questions about its motive.
Bloomberg news reported in November 2017 that the White House was considering this ban due to cybersecurity concerns and the fact that there were too many devices connected to the campus wireless network.
However, since then, the White House has not released any information about vulnerabilities or potential attacks on its systems.
Instead, the ban comes just hours after excerpts from an upcoming book on the Trump presidency, “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” were published, making claims that Trump was surprised by his victory in 2016 and that former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon believed there was “zero” chance then-candidate Trump was unaware of meetings between members of his family and a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower.
The book’s author, journalist Michael Wolff, told the Guardian that he was granted “extraordinary access” to the West Wing while researching the book.
Trump’s White House has also struggled with leaked information concerning West Wing goings on, though the new ban does not cite leaks as a motivation for the ban.
But for the better part of a year the White House has faced repeated questions for how its most senior leaders are using their personal devices.
Trump himself has been criticized in the past for using a personal cellphone to conduct business, as May 2017 reports found that the president had been handing out his personal cellphone number to world leaders and asking them to call him directly.
In addition, reports in October 2017 said the personal phone of John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, was also reported to be compromised in October 2017.
The ban will pose limitations on staff working in the West Wing, who can no longer use personal devices to text or call family members. And record-keeping rules may mean that anything sent from a government device could become public record.
Jessie Bur covers federal IT and management.