White House memo: Kelly bans personal phones, smart watches from West Wing

The move is aimed at bolstering cyber security protocols and nixing media leaks.

ByABC News
January 10, 2018, 3:33 PM

— -- With an eye on bolstering cyber security protocols and cracking down on leaks to the media, Chief of Staff John Kelly issued a memo to staff on Wednesday outlining the administration's new ban on personal cell phones within the West Wing complex of the White House.

In the internal memo obtained by ABC News and verified by a senior White House official Kelly said the policy — set to take effect January 16 — is intended "to protect White House information technology infrastructure from compromise and sensitive or classified information from unauthorized access or dissemination."

While the memo cites the need to protect classified information, one senior White House official says this is really more about preventing those embarrassing and politically damaging leaks that have plagued Trump's first year in office.

“It’s designed to prevent leaks and ensure the productivity of the people who work here,” the official said.

The policy goes further than originally expected and is not just limited to personal cell phones. It also includes laptops, smartwatches and "devices with WiFi, Bluetooth, radio, or cellular capabilities" and "any portable device that emits an electric signal and was not issued by the White House Communications Agency," according to the memo.

Staff has previously been warned against using personal cell phones for official business but this memo appears to take the first formal steps outlining disciplinary actions for staffers who skirt the rules.

"Violations of this policy by EOP staff are security incidents that may indicate knowing, willful, or negligent conduct in violation of security policy and may therefore result in disciplinary action and, for other Federal employees and visitors, may include being indefinitely prohibited from entering the White House complex," the memo reads.

Kelly advises staff working in the West Wing to leave the prohibited devices at home, in their vehicles or their non West Wing offices. There are also lockers available for storing the devices.

The policy isn’t without precedent in federal buildings. For example, due to security concerns, personal cell phones are not permitted on the seventh floor of the State Department where the senior executive offices are located.

A former senior White House official familiar with the decision tells ABC News that this has been a discussion since the early stages of the administration with a focus on protecting national security.

“I know that there are other reasons like the leaking, but this does come out of a concern with national security issues. The Chinese and Russians using personal cell phones and compromising them as listening devices,” the former official said, predicting that the ban will not stop the leaking as staffers will be able to use their devices outside the West Wing facility.

“For the purposes of this memorandum, the West Wing means the facility generally located between the President’s Executive Residence and West Executive Drive,” a footnote of the memo reads. “For purposes of this policy, the West Wing does not include the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room, any White House Press Corps work spaces, or any outdoor common area, such as the Rose Garden or the North Lawn media positions.”

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said last week that the new ban has nothing to do with leaks to the press or 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.

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