Congress joins the Skype, ooVoo crowd

It’s official: Members of the House of Representatives can now use Skype to communicate with their constituents. The announcement ends a debate that had caused some friction between House members and the Capitol’s network security gatekeepers.

On June 27, Daniel E. Lungren, (R-Calif.), chairman of the Committee on House Administration, announced that the House’s public Wi-Fi network was enabled to conduct Skype and ooVoo video teleconference calls.

The House has negotiated modified license agreements with Skype and ooVoo. The agreements require members and their staff to accept House-specific agreements that comply with House IT security rules, said Salley Wood, the Committee on House Administration’s communications director.

House members can now sign up for Skype, but they are limited to conducting video teleconferencing sessions on the House’s public Wi-Fi network to minimize peer-to-peer security risks, she said.

Concerns over peer-to-peer security and inadvertent data sharing had prevented the adoption of Skype on Capitol Hill. Last year, the issue briefly became a political football when Republican House members pushed to use the service to stay in touch with their constituents.

As of last summer, Skype began working with a bipartisan Congressional team to sort out the security issues. Staci Pies, Skype’s director of government and regulatory affairs, told GCN at the time that the group was taking its time because there were multiple security implications to work out.

Each of the Congressional offices can access its own Skype Manager account, which will allow one person in each office to administer the account, Pies wrote in her blog. Members of Congress and their staff can configure their privacy settings to a variety of levels. The software also allows users to accept or block a contact and it will not answer a call unless instructed to by the user, she wrote.

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