Pelosi, Boehner vow to investigate House computer security

The top Democratic and Republican leaders in the House issued a rare joint statement Friday evening pledging to conduct an immediate evaluation of the security of House computers in the wake of an embarrassing leak of a secret ethics committee document.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) announced that the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer’s Security Department will perform an “immediate and comprehensive assessment” of the security policies governing computers in the House.

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“In response to a recent data breach associated with the use of peer to peer applications on a non-House computer, we have directed the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer’s (CAO) Information Security Department to perform an immediate and comprehensive assessment of the policies and procedures for handling sensitive data,” Pelosi and Boehner said in a statement. “CAO Information Security Policy prohibits the use of peer-to-peer applications on House Computers. We are working diligently to provide the highest level of data security for the House in order to ensure that the operations of House offices are secure from unauthorized access.”

The announcement comes in the wake of revelations about internal House investigations into the conduct of more than two dozen House members accidentally exposed when a low-level ethics committee staffer used a peer-to-peer Internet program. The leak of the secretive, mainly preliminary inquiries by the House ethics committee and the Office of Congressional Ethics (OCE) rocked Capitol Hill on Thursday night and interrupted progress on Congress’s work to overhaul the nation’s healthcare system.

Members and offices implicated in the probe were frantically calling the ethics committee and leadership offices Thursday night and Friday to try to figure out how to respond to inquiries about their inclusion in the secret document.

Reverberations from the leak were still occurring Friday night after a day full of responses and explanations from members named in the document that ended up in the hands of Washington Post reporters.

An ethics committee statement said the internal document leaked when a low-level staffer used “peer-to-peer filing-sharing software” while working at home. The employee has since been fired. The staffer was authorized to work on the document at home but was responsible for keeping it secure, a House aide said.

The July report contained a summary of the panel’s work at the time, but Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Jo Bonner (R-Ala.), the chairwoman and ranking member of the ethics committee, said no inferences should be made about the names mentioned.

The Washington Post reported that more than 30 lawmakers and staff members were under scrutiny, including seven members of the House Appropriations defense subcommittee.