GOP Asks House to Relax Cybersecurity Rules for Skype

Posted April 20, 2010 at 7:00am

Republicans urged Democratic leaders on Monday to relax cybersecurity rules that restrict the use of certain video conferencing software in House offices.

In a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Administration Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.), House GOP leaders argued that the use of Skype, a low-cost video conferencing platform, could eliminate the use of expensive video equipment currently used by Members to connect with their constituents.

“We are certain that Skype, an increasingly relevant communication tool for Americans already widely used in the private sector, could be easily implemented in Congress in a manner that would not reduce the security of the House IT infrastructure,” the letter said.

Republicans hope to incorporate the software into a new Web site that will be used to involve the public in crafting the GOP’s election-year mission statement, titled the “Commitment to America.” Chief Deputy Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), tapped by House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) to head the new initiative, has estimated the Web site would launch within the next few weeks.

However, Democrats indicated Monday the ban on Skype would likely remain. Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for Brady, said Skype’s use of peer-to-peer software — which allows users to share files without a central administrator — makes it unsafe for use inside the House firewall.

“In December of 2009, Speaker Pelosi and Minority Leader Boehner directed the Committee and the Office of the [Chief Administrative Officer] to implement security recommendations as soon as possible to ensure the highest level of data security for House offices,” Anderson said. “The measures recommended included blocking peer-to-peer software within the House firewall. Skype utilizes peer-to-peer protocols.”

House data security was tightened last year after an internal ethics document detailing investigations by the Committee on Standards of Official Conduct and the Office of Congressional Ethics was accidently exposed through file-sharing software.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, said the Minority Leader still supports the cybersecurity measures that were implemented last year, “but he also believes there is a way to allow Members to use this popular tool to communicate with constituents, as well.”