President Donald Trump, who assailed Hillary Clinton on the campaign trail for her use of a private email server as secretary of state, has reportedly bucked cellphone security protocols in the White House because he thinks they’re “too inconvenient.” Trump insists on using a phone that isn’t equipped with security features that would best shield his communications.
According to a report from Eliana Johnson, Emily Stephenson, and Daniel Lippman at Politico, citing two senior administration officials, Trump uses at least two iPhones in the White House. One is capable of making calls, and the other has only the Twitter app and some news sites. Trump has resisted advice from aides that he swap out the Twitter phone every 30 days and has gone as long as five months without it being checked by security experts.
It’s no secret that Trump prizes his ability to communicate with the outside world via Twitter, where he can connect with supporters and circumvent the press to get out his message. And it is also well-known that he often calls friends and advisers to chat, weigh his options, and seek advice. The Politico report suggests that he’s not following security protocol as he does this — and because his call-capable phone has a camera and microphone, it could be a prime target for hackers. (The GPS locator on it is disabled.)
Per Politico, President Barack Obama allowed his phones to be examined by telecommunications staffers for suspicious activity on a monthly basis. When he was elected, he publicly lobbied to keep his BlackBerry, and his transition team put together a military-grade phone without a microphone, camera, or location tracker for him to use as president that couldn’t make or receive any calls.
“I get the thing, and they’re all like, ‘Well, Mr. President, for security reasons … it doesn’t take pictures, you can’t text, the phone doesn’t work … you can’t play music on it,” Obama joked in an interview with Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon in 2016 of his phone capabilities. At that point, he had been upgraded to an iPhone from a BlackBerry, but the limitations remained. “Basically, it’s like, does your three-year-old have one of those play phones?”
A West Wing official told Politico that Trump’s call-capable phones are “seamlessly swapped out on a regular basis through routine support operations” and that the Twitter phone didn’t need to be changed out because of its security controls. The official also said the devices are actually more secure than Obama’s because of “inherent capabilities and advancement in technologies,” even if the one does have a camera and a microphone.
Experts told Politico that’s not the case and that what Trump is doing is risky to security because he’s the highest-value target for hackers imaginable.
This isn’t the first time Trump’s phone habits have raised eyebrows. During the transition, whether he would keep up his habit of constant tweeting and freely picking up the phone to call friends and reporters was an open question. After his election, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull called Trump to congratulate him on his victory after getting his phone number from professional golfer Greg Norman. Trump traded in his old Android phone when he was inaugurated.