Speaker asks House officials to explore Skype use

House officials could soon relax rules that prohibit lawmakers from using Skype and other video conferencing tools to communicate with their constituents.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) has asked the chamber's Chief Administrative Officer and the House Committee on Administration to "further explore whether Skype can be utilized in a manner that will not compromise House information security infrastructure and policies that were implemented in 2006," according to Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for committee Chairman Robert Brady (D-Pa.)

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That review is "currently underway," Anderson told The Hill on Tuesday, noting that "Speaker Pelosi is committed to ensuring that communication tools are available for Members to reach their constituents."

The committee's interest in Skype stems from a letter that House Republican leaders sent last week to Brady and other top Democrats, asking for a change in video conferencing rules.

Currently, Skype and related sites are regarded as "unauthorized," and are blocked on all House computers, primarily because Democrats once believed the site posed key security risks to congressional networks.

To change that provision, Democrats on the House Administration Committee would have to initiate an amendment process, which would be subject to a committee vote, according to staff.

House GOP leaders are now calling on their counterparts to do just that, stressing that innumerable businesses already use Skype and similar sites with great success. They noted in their letter that the change could be implemented in such a way that also take into account the chamber's larger cybersecurity needs.

"Current House rules allow Members of Congress to use taxpayer funds to conduct traditional, often expensive, video teleconferencing activities with their constituents, but forbid them from using Skype -- which is practically free -- for such activities," they wrote in the letter.

"We are certain that Skype, an increasingly relevant communication tool for Americans already widely used in the private sector, could be easily implemented in Congress in a manner that would not reduce the security of the House IT infrastructure," they continued.