House offers new video teleconferencing service for members, staff

VSee is “free teleconferencing software that offers a secure way to video chat with constituents and staff in your district and conduct virtual town hall meetings,” Lungren wrote in a “Dear Colleague” memo circulated to congressional staff last week.

Lungren, also a member of the House Technology Operations Team, added that VSee is the latest communications technology available to House members.

ADVERTISEMENT
“We have three different services for real-time teleconferencing,” he said Thursday. “We’ve got Skype, we’ve got ooVoo … and now we just let them know about VSee.”

Lungren noted that as the House continues to expand its use of technology — including introducing iPad applications — security remains a paramount concern.

“What we’ve tried to do ... is to ensure that with these new technologies, we’re able to have the same level of security that I think this institution ought to expect,” he said.

It was certainly an uphill battle last year allaying security concerns regarding the introduction of any Internet phone and video teleconferencing services in the House.

Members had been clamoring for the use of such communications technologies for more than a year. In April 2010, House Republicans sent a letter to then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and then-House Administration Committee Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.) requesting implementation of Skype. Several months later, then-Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) backed the request.

But attacks on the Senate’s computer systems by hacker group Lulz Security last summer raised additional questions about the House’s network protection.

The House negotiated modified license agreements with Skype and ooVoo to maintain the necessary level of information technology security within the network, a process that delayed the adoption of the services until last summer.

Of the new offering, Lungren wrote that all congressional employees who choose to use VSee are required to “accept House-specific agreements that comply with House Rules and maximize protection for members and staff.”

When asked why the committee decided to offer VSee in addition to Skype and ooVoo, spokeswoman Salley Wood noted it was all about choice.

“The chairman wants to provide members with as many options as possible,” she wrote in an email.