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US Marshals Migrate from BlackBerrys to iPhones

Hadrian/Shutterstock.com

It looks like some U.S. Marshals Service personnel are getting an early holiday present. The agency is switching employees from BlackBerrys to iPhones, during the 2015 federal fiscal year that started in October, according to contracting documents. 

Currently, "mobility" for the Marshals Service's roughly 7,000 users means being able to work away from the office on laptops, BlackBerry 10 smartphones, and some tablets, officials said.

Going forward, in addition to embracing iPhones, the agency says it is analyzing the business case for "providing USMS network access from non-USMS devices," which sounds a lot like a bring-your-own device program for employees who want to work on their personal gadgets. The Marshals also are testing a small number of Windows 8 tablets and Android-based smartphones.  

The telework tech overhaul was revealed in a request for market research on companies that can develop mobile apps and provide other device support services.

"The United States Marshals Service is in the beginning stages of developing a robust mobility program," the solicitation states. "As end-users increase their dependence on mobile devices, USMS requires comprehensive strategies, plans and policies to establish a reliable, secure and mission-enabling mobility posture." 

Today, the agency's beta-mode Androids are tethered to an Airwatch-brand management system for security, but the system is not deployed agencywide, officials said. An Airwatch system also is used for the Marshals’ existing approximately 650 Apple devices, which include MacBook Airs and iPads.

The Marshals Service expects to award a maximum five-year contract for support services starting in May. The scope of the work includes program management, custom app design, third-party app vetting, mobile device management, and research and development.

The Marshals already apparently use other people's iPhones and Androids to chase after fugitives. The Wall Street Journal this month reported on a program, in which Cessna aircraft are equipped with gizmos that mimic cell towers of telecommunications companies to trick citizens' phones into revealing identifying information. The data scooped up ostensibly is used to locate and capture criminals.  

In turning to popular consumer devices, the Marshals Service is following in the footsteps of sister Justice Department agency, the FBI. In June, the bureau bought 26,500 one-year licenses for Samsung Knox software capable of securing Galaxy S5 smartphones. Another law enforcement agency, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, dropped BlackBerrys for iPhones a couple of years ago.

But some bastions of national security still rely on the security of BlackBerrys. There are 85,000 BlackBerry devices in use at the Pentagon -- slightly more than 10 times the number of Apple and Android devices fielded today, Defense Department officials said late last month.

(Image via Hadrian / Shutterstock.com)

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