May
03
2011

Rep. Issa asking hard questions on WH message security.

As represented by the growing use of iPads – and no, that’s not actually ridiculous.  An iPad or iPad2 on a 3G network is a combination camera, scanner, and communications device that is independent of the White House’s servers; which means that anything written or transmitted by it is not going to be automatically recorded by those servers. And the problem with that?  Well, the problem with that is called the Presidential Records Act, which defines and regulates a lot of the official communications and records of the Executive Branch.

Let me summarize the below video from House Oversight:

  • When asked by House Oversight Chair Darrell Issa, WH Chief Information Officer Brook Colangelo acknowledged that people routinely enter and exit the White House every day with devices that circumvent communications security.
  • The procedure for determining whether or not an email or other form of digital communication made from a private account is actually subject to the PRA is apparently up to individual discretion.
  • David Ferriero, the Archivist of the United States and head of the National Archives and Records Administration, is not comfortable with the current system.

And he’s right not to be. Let me give you a concrete example.  Consider this picture, which was taken by a regular iPad2.  In this case, I took the picture and emailed it to myself… but I just as easily could have emailed it to a third-party Gmail or Hotmail account.  For that matter, I could have had this iPad associated with a dummy email account that is not the one that I normally use.  There are other scenarios: but the point here is that if a hypothetical White House staffer uses this gaping hole in oversight to play partisan political games there’s no way to independently check to see if that is happening.

Rep. Issa seems somewhat resigned to this; possibly I’m being naive here, but I’m not.  You could solve the problem by giving Executive Branch employees government-issued cell phones and then banning all private communication/recording devices from being brought onto Federal property*.  That this would also immediately cause coronaries (and career-ending psychotic breaks) throughout the Beltway is merely a beneficial side effect…

Moe Lane (crosspost)

*There are already restrictions on both in various locations; I’m thinking of a more… comprehensive… ban.

3 Comments

  • Rob crawford says:

    Anyone with a security clearance has to deal with more onerous restrictions. A friend who is an engineer has to be careful where he takes his calculator because it has memory. An iPad with Evernote and a 3G connection can record a meeting and send the audio around the world n a few minutes.

  • Cameron says:

    Given the restrictions I put up with on my job, I’m surprised that a crackdown hasn’t already happened.

  • qixlqatl says:

    Isn’t securing communications the NSA’s job? Maybe this is a slightly different issue(more political than security, but there is some overlap), but the NSA ought to have the right capabilities. I know it takes a bureaucracy some time to catch up with technology, but this problem has been growing for a while. Good for Rep. Issa.

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