I've been reading reports that Donald Trump is stepping up the use of his personal phone which is insecure on a few different levels (e.g prone to software exploits due to out of date software). This begs the question, can current laws or procedures force him to hand over his phone in the interest of national security?

I'm talking about existing procedures or laws, rather than ones proposed by congress or "presidential norms" that have been ignored by the president

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    When I read the title, I expected a snarky "question" about his tweeting. Instead, this seems to be a reasonable question. I don't see why it's seen as a bad-faith question.
    – Golden Cuy
    Apr 24, 2018 at 10:32
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    I think the question is not necessarily asked in bad faith. It is more about security concerns due to improper use of cell phones, which is a reasonable and generally problematic issue. I recall a similar question when it was revealed that Angela Merkel's cell phone had been monitored by the NSA, or when supposedly Russian hackers broke into the servers of the German Bundestag. But I would suggest to widen up the question a bit to include any process to protect government representatives from being monitored, not only Donald Trump and his smartphone.
    – Thern
    Apr 24, 2018 at 12:36

2 Answers 2


Barack Obama kept a Blackberry for almost his entire presidency. He "upgraded" in 2016, as mentioned in the The Verge. Obama's retention of a personal cell phone was against the advice of the Secret Service, as told in the New York Times (paywalled/limited).

The Secret Service reports to the president (albeit indirectly through the Secretary of Homeland Security). The president can replace the Director of the Secret Service with someone who has a more accommodating interpretation of the job requirements. That is not one of the positions that requires Senate confirmation.

There are three main arguments that a personal cell phone is insecure:

  1. It transmits, so a bad actor could use it to locate a president. Of course, that only matters if the president's location is unknown.

  2. It is possible to intercept the transmissions of the phone, which make the conversations insecure. The president should not discuss classified information over an insecure cell phone. But a president also shouldn't be discussing classified information with friends, who are the most likely to call on a personal cell phone.

  3. A cell phone also might conceivably collect information on conversations that occur in its vicinity when it is not in use as a phone. Of course, that applies to every personal cell phone in the president's vicinity. This is addressable by removing the phone from the president's vicinity during classified conversations.

The Blackberry that Obama had fixed the third problem by being massively restricted and observed. No picture taking or music playing. It was just a phone. This also reduced the second problem. It reduced the first problem by disabling the GPS, although it would still be subject to triangulation.


If the Secret Service deems it necessary for a President's personal protection (as in "omg, there is a bomb in this phone!"), then the Secret Service can take it. A President cannot decline the Secret Service's protection (by law). How far this concept extends is probably negotiable.

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    "A President cannot decline the Secret Service's protection (by law)." .. Interesting. Makes sense, but I didn't know it was a legal obligation. Can you post a reference? Apr 24, 2018 at 13:01
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    Here's a good source, "The protection authorized in paragraphs (2) through (8) may be declined." Paragraph (1) is "The President, the Vice President (or other officer next in the order of succession to the Office of President), the President-elect, and the Vice President-elect."
    – user5155
    Apr 24, 2018 at 15:46
  • @JeffLambert I strongly suspect the Supreme Court would throw out any clause requiring the President to do anything not required by the Constitution, should the President object to it. Jan 17, 2019 at 22:28

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