FAQ: Why Obama may give up his BlackBerry

Six security experts say he should shelve it

So, what's the big worry about using a BlackBerry?

The biggest concern seems to be how to handle e-mail and outbound communications from a BlackBerry, or any other device, including the desktop computer.

"Whether he uses a BlackBerry is a political question, really," said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. "I think the more significant issue is whether they want him to have e-mail at all. They already have secure e-mail systems in the White House" used by aides but not the president.

So what's the security worry with e-mail then?

"The real issue with communicating over e-mail is that it's too risky for a president, since nobody can prove he did or didn't send an e-mail," said John Pescatore, a Gartner analyst. "If a woman came forward and said she had a liaison with President Obama, it might be best if he could say, 'I don't send e-mail' except for official communications."

Pescatore added that the standard policy for a reputable business today is never to send or ask a customer to send anything considered sensitive over e-mail. "E-mail is not trustable," he said. "We thought it was, but then along came the phishers."

Using a BlackBerry, would Obama be required to keep records of communications from the device?

Probably. Most of the experts agreed that the Presidential Records Act would pertain to BlackBerry communications, certainly those in text over e-mail. "If a president tried to circumvent that requirement, I am sure he would face tremendous scrutiny and public outcry," Owen said.

And what is this Presidential Records Act?

The act, first passed in 1978, states that the public owns presidential records, which are subject to review through the Freedom of Information Act beginning five years after the end of an administration, with other restrictions. In effect, it means that all presidential correspondence needs to be carefully managed because it could eventually be included in the historical record.

Security expert Bruce Schneier, who recently wrote an article on the topic for the Wall Street Journal believes the biggest worry over Obama's use of a BlackBerry is not from hackers but how the president would defend using it against subpoenas for information or against a law like the Presidential Records Act.

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