Secret Service Mulls Disabling iMessages to Avoid Repeat of Jan. 6 Controversy

secret service imessages

The United States Secret Service is currently facing considerable backlash over deleted text messages on Jan. 6. To try avoiding a repeat of that controversy, the Secret Service may turn off employees’ ability to use Apple’s iMessages service on work-issued iPhones.

Missing Text Messages From Jan. 6 Raise Eyebrows

In the aftermath and investigation of the Jan. 6 riot in Washington, D.C., a major challenge has shown up. As the investigation proceeded, the Department of Homeland Security inspector general informed Congress the Secret Service had lost text messages related to the attack.

The deletion, authorities claim, happened while erasing employees’ phones as part of a change in device management procedures. The Secret Service rolled out a new mobile device management platform. Such software allows employers to centrally manage devices like iPhones and iPads. Organizations use MDM  to centrally manage and preserve apps, emails, photos and other data.

The one thing an MDM cannot manage, however, is a device’s iMessage history. Text messages sent using Apple’s iMessages service are encrypted and stored on users’ devices. Regular text messages, on the other hand, are stored unencrypted. This makes it easy to back them up with MDM software.

Secret Service to Consider Disabling iMessages on Employee Devices

To avoid a repeat of this controversy, the Secret Service is studying the feasibility of disabling iMessages on all agency-owned iPhone and iPad devices. The key, however, is making sure such a measure doesn’t affect operations in a bad way.

According to Secret Service spokesperson Anthony Guglielmi, Director James Murray ordered a study to see if disabling iMessages would pose any problems for the agency. “We want to make sure whatever policy action we take does not adversely impact our protective or investigative missions,” Guglielmi said.

Former U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency Director Chris Krebs pointed out that DHS leaves iMessages enabled. The Secret Service follows that department’s protocols as a matter of course. Krebs also pointed out, though, that the White House has disabled the service within its own policies.

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