May 19, 2020

Van Hollen, Wyden, Rounds and Eshoo Call for Securing U.S. Capitol Phone Networks in Bipartisan Letter

Bicameral Coalition Warns that Calls Between House and Senate Are Unencrypted and Vulnerable to Surveillance

U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Mike Rounds (R-S.D.), along with Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and 20 members of the House and Senate requested to encrypt phone calls between the chambers to protect communications against foreign surveillance.

“Congress must secure itself from the serious threat posed by foreign spies,” the members wrote. “Please take immediate action to encrypt, in bulk, all internal calls and other electronic communications between the Senate, House and other components of the legislative branch.”

Senators Angus King (I-Maine), Ben Sasse (R-Neb.), James Lankford (R-Ok.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Jerry Moran (R-Kansas), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), and Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) also signed the letter. They were joined by Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-Wisc.), Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), Michael Waltz (R-Fla.), C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), Michael T. McCaul (R-Texas), Ted W. Lieu (D-Calif.), and Will Hurd (R-Texas).

Currently, calls within the Senate are protected by encryption, as are most calls within the House. But calls across the Capitol are vulnerable to being tapped by hackers and foreign spies. 

Encrypting unclassified communications is standard practice in many federal agencies. The Pentagon is in the process of encrypting its backbone network, in response to serious surveillance threats. In February 2019, the Defense Information Systems Agency recommended, “Federal, State and Local agencies should work towards protecting their unclassified networks by applying encryption technologies similar to the Department of Defense.”

The members asked for a plan to encrypt calls between the House and Senate by June 12.

The signed letter is available here.