Is President Donald Trump still using an insecure smartphone? If he's been given a secure device for his personal use, is he actually using it? And what security measures are in place to protect his personal phone from intruders?
These are some of the questions recently put to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis by two Democratic senators who serve on the Homeland Security Committee. In a letter dated Feb. 9, Sens. Claire McCaskill and Tom Carper expressed concern that Trump's personal phone — which he may use to send tweets, they note, and may be vulnerable to hacking — poses a serious national security risk.
"Public reports originally indicated that President Trump began using a 'secure, encrypted device approved by the U.S. Secret Service' prior to taking office," the senators wrote. "Subsequent reports, however, suggest that President Trump may still be using his personal smartphone, an 'old, unsecured Android phone.' While it is important for the President to have the ability to communicate electronically, it is equally important that he does so in a manner that is secure and that ensures the preservation of presidential records."
McCaskill and Carper described these news reports as "troubling," since hackers can target unsecured devices and activate a phone's audio recording, camera, and location-tracking. Even when people take precautions to secure their devices, hackers continue to exploit security weaknesses or create new pathways to personal data, the senators said.
"These vulnerabilities are among the reasons why national security agencies discourage the use of personal devices," the letter said. "The national security risks of compromising a smartphone used by a senior government official, such as the President of the United States, are considerable."
McCaskill and Carper asked Mattis to confirm whether the president has a "secured, encrypted smartphone for his personal use." They also asked to review the Defense Department's written policies for securing Trump's personal device.
Alongside the security risks, the senators were also concerned that presidential records — including Trump's tweets — may not be properly recorded if they are created on his personal device. "The National Archives and Records
Administration considers President Trump's tweets to be records that must be adequately documented, preserved, and maintained for historic purposes, as required by the Presidential Records Act," the letter said.
One of the questions posed to Mattis was whether the Defense Department collaborated with the National Archives and Records Administration to ensure that the security measures on Trump's phone don't interfere with the preservation of presidential records.
The senators asked Mattis to respond by March 9.
Last month, McCaskill and Carper wrote a letter to White House Counsel Donald McGahn seeking to find out if Trump's staff complied with federal law regarding the use of private email accounts to conduct official business. They asked that he respond by Feb. 10. A spokesperson for McCaskill told BuzzFeed News that they have not received a response.
Hamza Shaban is a technology policy reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.
Contact Hamza Shaban at Hamza.Shaban@buzzfeed.com.
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