The White House confirmed Jan. 22 that President Barack Obama will use a smartphone while in office, although it may not be his beloved BlackBerry e-mail device. The announcement represents a victory for Obama over the myriad security officials assigned to the president who wanted to strip him of his smartphone.
White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, “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 the security is enhanced to ensure his ability to communicate, but to do so effectively.”
Gibbs added that Obama’s ability to e-mail would be restricted to “a limited group of senior staffers and personal friends. It’s a pretty small group of people.”
Whether Obama will in the future use an actual BlackBerry or some sort of souped-up hybrid remains in doubt. The Atlantic broke the news Jan. 21 that Obama will be outfitted with either a non-GPS BlackBerry doused in a super-encryption package or possibly a Sectera Edge from General Dynamics, which contains enough encryption to permit “top secret” voice communications.
Research In Motion‘s BlackBerrys-the smartphones of choice in the federal government-do not contain encryption allowing for calls or e-mail above “secret” status. The Sectera Edge was originally developed for the National Security Agency, comes with Secure Communications Interoperability Protocol and the High Assurance Internet Protocol Encryptor Interoperability specification, and provides secure connections to classified government networks.
The Sectera Edge costs $3,350 and pundits immediately dubbed it the “BarackBerry.”
In any event, Obama’s e-mail will be subject to the Presidential Records Act, which requires the National Archives to preserve presidential records. Gibbs said the law allows some exemptions for “strictly personal communications.” Obama’s communications will be kept from the public during his presidency.
Obama has said since he won the election that he wants to keep his BlackBerry while serving in office. “I’m still clinging to my BlackBerry. They’re going to pry it out of my hands,” Obama said in a January broadcast on CNBC.