Tech firm says it can connect iPhone, Capitol

Capitol Hill staffers may be able to get work e-mail on iPhones by the end of the year, according to a California-based technology company.

Good Technology is in talks with the House and Senate about a way to overcome the main obstacle to iPhone usage — encrypting e-mail at a high enough level to meet congressional security needs.

Officials familiar with the House and Senate e-mail systems said even the newest iPhones do not meet security concerns that come with electronic congressional correspondence.

But with Good Technology’s impending release of Mobile Messaging, an e-mail security service, the use of iPhones on Capitol Hill could soon become a reality, although the Chief Administrative Office (CAO) has not finalized plans to contract Good Technology.

Last October, when CAO conducted a test run of iPhones for official e-mail, it talked with Good Technology about products it could employ.

“We had spoken to [Good Technology] prior to supporting the iPhone in the limited way that we support them now,” said Jeff Ventura, spokesman for the CAO, which oversees mobile phones and e-mail operations for the House.

“We do understand that there are additional enhancements … to what they’re offering, so it is conceivable that we will re-engage them in terms of just discussing what options are now available. But right now we have no definite plans or contract on the table with them.”

Still, Good Technology CEO and President Brian Bogosian is confident the iPhone will soon be in use on Capitol Hill.

“We think this is a game-changer,” he said. “The more demand we get from staffers and members of Congress … to support secure messaging on their iPhones, I’m sure the sergeant at arms and the [House] IT staff are going to want to accelerate internal testing and get this deployed as quickly as possible.

“If there’s demand for iPhones within the Congress, which we’re told, very resoundingly, that there is, it’s our plan to make this available for deployment as rapidly as the internal IT department of the Congress would be available to launch it.”

The company declined to say how much the technology costs.

“It varies by customer; we don’t disclose it, but we are competitive with other offerings in the market,” said Maureen O’Connell, Good Technology’s spokeswoman.

The office of the Senate sergeant at arms, which oversees the mobile phone and e-mail services for the upper chamber, said it has received some requests for the phones (as has the House) but it would be too costly and time-consuming to remedy the iPhone security gaps by revamping the Senate’s e-mail servers.

Instead, the office is considering using a third party to solve the problem, though it would not say if a particular company is being considered.

“It’s not that we’re against iPhones,” said Kimball Winn, chief information officer for the Senate sergeant at arms. “We will support them when they’re supportable. And right now they’re just not there yet. I think what it’s really going to take is a third-party vendor to actually see that niche and provide a manageable connection between our Senate e-mail and the iPhone, similar to the way that BlackBerry does with the BlackBerry Exchange server.”

At present, iPhones on Capitol Hill are being used only as cell phones and personal application devices, according to the Senate sergeant at arms and CAO.

Lawmakers and staff may be tired of carrying around more than one device for personal and business uses, said Bogosian.

“People have business lives and personal lives that they prefer to merge on a single device and not be carrying different device platforms for various components of their life,” he said.

The iPhone has garnered tremendous attention since its release in July 2007. But the cell phone of choice in the House is the BlackBerry, with nearly 8,200 in use.

With the arrival of the BlackBerry Enterprise Server in 2001, e-mail through BlackBerrys became centralized and streamlined, which made for faster and more seamless delivery. The previous BlackBerry e-mail system relied on local workstations, making e-mail delivery slow and unreliable at times.

BlackBerry devices were first made available in Congress to the freshman class in 2000 and a campus-wide distribution was completed in October 2001.

The House had conducted a 1,000-user, one-month test prior to Sept. 11, 2001. In response to the terrorist attacks that day, the House Administration Committee, in conjunction with the CAO, purchased BlackBerry devices for each member of Congress as another method of communication.