White House Staffers Threatened with Jail for Using BlackBerrys

Anticipating a shutdown, federal agencies ban furloughed employees from their smartphones

This article is from the archive of our partner .

Update: White House staffers have been threatened with two years of jail time if they use their BlackBerry during the shutdown, reports National Journal. The slammer for texting?

As the looming threat of a government shutdown inches nearer, federal agencies are issuing a draconian array of directives for how "non-essential" employees should conduct themselves in the event of a shutdown. In short: Don't work—don't even think about working. This includes "telework" or logging on to your e-mail account, receiving or sending text-messages, phone calls or voicemails even at home. A House Administration Committee memo advises reps to confiscate their staff's office-issued BlackBerry phones. Another House memo warns that "working in any way during a period of furlough (even as a volunteer) is grounds for disciplinary action, up to and including termination of employment."

Politico's Mike Allen describes the directives as "Orwellian" but it's not clear how seriously any of the estimated 1 million "non essential" employees are taking the marching orders. "Workers who may be furloughed wonder who will know if they sneak a peek and read an email or two," writes Margaret Rock at Mobiledia. "Others are betting that their bosses will go soft on enforcing the policy, by not taking the full measures to round up all the devices."

Still, other federal employees are rather pleased with the idea of tuning out. "Those of us with small children will appreciate not having to respond when we see the blinking red light on our BlackBerry," an FCC worker told the New York Times. "I think a lot of people would welcome a shutdown if it only takes three or four days." For the addicts, The Wall Street Journal says some workers are planning on rerouting their work e-mail to other devices. "I have a Pavlovian response that I swear sometimes I feel like my hip's vibrating when it's not there," said a Senate aide.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.