As anticipated toward the end of 2017, West Wing personnel won’t be allowed to use their personal phones while on site anymore. Just one day after revelations from Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury brought halting leaks to the press back on Donald Trump’s list of priorities (not that it had ever really left), press secretary Sarah Sanders announced on Thursday (Jan. 4) that “the use of all personal devices for both guests and staff will no longer be allowed in the West Wing,” and “staff will be able to conduct business on their government-issued devices.”
Which prompts the question: Does that include the president?
Sanders, who called the possibility that the ban was connected to the book “a ridiculous characterization,” didn’t address the issue. She said in a press briefing that the move “has been in process and in the works for over six months,” and that it was only a matter of getting all phones to comply with the Presidential Records Act. “Now that that process is completed,” Sanders said, “we can move forward and that will start next week.”
While inconvenient for staffers, who might for instance need their phone to coordinate with their families, the decision has security grounds, as personal phones are more vulnerable to hacking, something the White House believes happened to John Kelly’s personal device, and the NSA has warned against.
If Kelly’s phone was compromised, surely so can Trump’s—so will he have to let go of his personal device while at work, like the rest of his staff, or be the presidential exception to the rule? A White House official told Quartz that Trump and his cabinet, as well as senior aids, follow security measures related to their phones. However, the official didn’t confirm or deny whether the ban applied to them as well.
Paving the way for presidential mobile phone etiquette, Barack Obama had to fight to keep using his Blackberry once in office, while smartphones were hardly an issue for previous presidents, as they only became a popular means of communication, work and play in the early 2000s.
Trump has been known to use his personal Android phone to tweet—as indicated by the note attached to the bottom of his tweets describing the device used—though early in his presidency he likely switched to a more secure iPhone.
Somehow, it’s hard to imagine the president will abide by the new personal phone use rule, but until evidence to the contrary, there is a sliver of hope. Will Trump have to put down his mobile phone (his personal one, at the least)? Only Twitter will tell.