Obama to Get Thumbs on Secure BlackBerry

Device has tons of encryption

Thursday, Jan 22, 2009  |  Updated 5:31 PM PDT
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Obama to Get Thumbs on Secure BlackBerry

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President Barack Obama will get to keep his BlackBerry after all. 

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs confirmed Thursday afternoon that the BlackBerry will stay.

"The president has a BlackBerry through a compromise that allows him to stay in touch with senior staff and a small group of personal friends in a way that use will be limited and security enhanced," Gibbs said.

Gibbs said nearly all of the e-mails will be subject to the Presidential Records Act, but there will be "narrow exemptions" for strictly personal communications.

"He believes it is a way to keep in touch with folks and doing it in a way to get outside of getting stuck in a bubble," Gibbs said.

The Atlantic said Obama will receive a security-enhanced version of the phone, the Sectera Edge, complete with a super-encryption package. 

Ring tones, however, are still extra.

The new BlackBerry will be able to handle routine personal messages, according to The Atlantic, but it is still not clear what Obama would be able to actually do with the device.

There are legal ramifications if he uses it for governmental business, as all documents, including e-mails, have to be kept on record (think Nixon). 

And if he uses it for personal reasons, there are other issues, such as outside forces being able to track his movement via GPS and cell towers.

Computerworld brings up some interesting questions about encryption.  How will others be able to decode his messages if they're super-encrypted?

"If Obama wanted to reach an outsider via the BlackBerry, then the person getting his messages would need to have a BlackBerry equipped with super-de-cryption capabilities," Computerworld pondered.  "That's not likely to happen because of the cost -- and inherent loss of security -- involved in sharing encryption technology for public use."

According to the Guardian, the NSA-approved device costs about $3,350.

But Obama wasn't the only one suffering from technology withdrawl as he entered the White House.

His staff arrived at the iconic building Wednesday to find lots of disconnected phone lines, old computer software and regulations forbidding outside e-mail accounts, according to the Washington Post

No, there is no Facebook, AIM or Gmail.

"It is kind of like going from an Xbox to an Atari," Obama spokesman Bill Burton told the Post.

An Obama new-media expert quickly found there are no Macs in the White House, rather some PCs with 6-year-old versions of Microsoft software, according to the Post.

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