FAQ: Why Obama may give up his BlackBerry

Six security experts say he should shelve it

Could Barack Obama ever expect to continue using his BlackBerry once he officially becomes president?

According to experts on security, mobile phones and presidential communications, the answer is no.

Their reasons are not just about the security, privacy and possible hacking of a BlackBerry device running over a wireless network that includes a Network Operations Center in Canada. The reasons have as much to do with the security of e-mail generally, and how the White House would treat BlackBerry communications under the Presidential Records Act.

Culled from interviews with these six experts, this FAQ covers the reasons the president-elect will probably hand over his BlackBerry, built by Canada-based Research in Motion.

Why would anyone care whether Obama uses his BlackBerry, considering the world is in economic turmoil, terrorists just attacked Mumbai, India and the US is engaged in wars on two fronts?

Good question. Since Obama is considered a change agent and also a friend of technology, some have said it might be valuable to see him take advantage of quick access to e-mail and the Internet. A BlackBerry in the hands of the most powerful man in the world might serve as a valuable funnel for input from advisers, average citizens and even rivals, their thinking goes. One columnist for Newsweek recently argued that Obama should also hold onto his BlackBerry to free him "from the gilded prison of the White House." Bloggers have made similar arguments.

But all six experts agree that Obama will have plenty of access to all kinds of information, as well as expert sources and aides who could be searching the Web and answering or sending e-mail for him. Given the technology available today and the fact that he will be the first president with a desktop computer in the Oval Office, there will be lots of inbound information, and presidents already have many ways to get their messages out through radio, TV and the Web, the experts argued.

"My feeling is, that at this point, it is unnecessary for a president to carry a personal BlackBerry," said Diana Owen, head of the American Studies program at Georgetown University in Washington and an expert on presidential communications.

"I can appreciate the isolation dangers ... but I still think it's ill-advised for the president to keep the CrackBerry," said Paula Musich, a security analyst at Current Analysis.

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Matt Hamblen

Computerworld
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