January 22nd, 2009
07:04 PM ET

It's official: Barack keeps his BlackBerry

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David Gewirtz | BIO
Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Publishing

We now have some official confirmation that President Obama will be using a BlackBerry device in office. In the first of his Daily Press Briefings, newly minted White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs answered some questions about the President's BlackBerry.

Specifically, he stated:

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 that the security is enhanced to ensure his ability to communicate, but to do so effectively and to do so in a way that is protected.

Gibbs was asked a question about record keeping, in particular, those records that are subject to the Presidential Records Act. Gibbs stated that the emails sent on the BlackBerry are all subject to the Presidential Records Act with the exception of "some narrow exemptions in the Presidential Records Act to afford for strictly personal communications."

One statement in Mr. Gibbs briefing was particularly encouraging from a Presidential email security perspective. Gibbs stated, "There's a process by which people that have access to the email will be briefed before anything like that [emailing the President] can happen."

When asked who will have access to the President through his BlackBerry, Gibbs explained that it would be "A limited group of senior staffers and some personal friends. It's a pretty small group of people."

As I mentioned earlier today, it's possible to upgrade an off-the-shelf BlackBerry for increased message security, including adding enhancements to encryption and digital signing.

As long as there's ongoing consideration of all the ramifications of BlackBerry usage by a President of the United States, it's encouraging to see how much this new President wants to keep himself connected to his key associates and friends.

Your email security

Here's one warning, though: if you ever get an email from Barack Obama, it's unlikely to really be from Barack Obama. Unless you've been briefed directly by members of his staff, the email you're getting is not only not from the President, it's probably a malicious message designed to sneak some software onto your computer or sneak some money out of your wallet.

To reuse a term used by Mr. Gibbs repeatedly in the briefing, an "abundance of caution" is important for us all.

Editor’s note: David Gewirtz is Editor-in-Chief, ZATZ Magazines, including OutlookPower Magazine. He is a leading Presidential scholar specializing in White House email. He is a member of FBI InfraGard, the Cyberterrorism Advisor for the International Association for Counterterrorism & Security Professionals, a columnist for The Journal of Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, and has been a guest commentator for the Nieman Watchdog of the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University. He is a faculty member at the University of California, Berkeley extension, a recipient of the Sigma Xi Research Award in Engineering and was a candidate for the 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Letters.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. William of Iowa

    I do not think that the President would put sensitive information out by text or voice on a blackberry, he knows better. Hack what? The secret missle codes? Cmon. I do admire the Secret Service's dedication to protect the President, trusting him might be good. Disable the GPS.

    January 23, 2009 at 10:19 am |
  2. Lisa SayCheese Photograhper

    Any technological device can be hacked and anything can be compromised if someone wants to really gain information. Having a Blackberry is nothing more than staying connected at the hip. Although I personally wish he would have went with the Apple iPhone 3G! I would love to see MACs take over America. 🙂

    "A Mac Lady"

    January 23, 2009 at 1:27 am |
  3. Joe

    I would definitely feel his pain if he was deprived of his blackberry, I love mine.

    January 22, 2009 at 11:19 pm |
  4. jackie

    That's one point for Obama and another for Blackberry. Let's see how it goes. I don't hope to see any naked pictures of Michelle though. God, I just love that woman ... the first First Lady that made me smile.

    January 22, 2009 at 11:16 pm |
  5. Antonio Guimaraes

    Millions of Americans already get messages from Obama, more than once a week. His connectedness with the American people means his campaign people, and transition team send messages that are at least sent on Obama's behalf. I understand the difference in that Obama will not be sending personal messages to individuals, but the campaign messages are easily identified as campaign messages–and yes, some thimes they are from President Obama.

    January 22, 2009 at 10:28 pm |
  6. missy

    Does Obama have to divulge the names of the small groups of friends he is allowed to communicate with as added security? What if that personal friend loses their blackberry with Obama's contact info stored in it?

    January 22, 2009 at 9:42 pm |
  7. Roxanne

    Right On!! Go Blackberry!!!

    January 22, 2009 at 9:23 pm |
  8. Sara

    I think that this is ridiculous – we already know that every piece of technology is hackable and it's a wonder that President Obama thinks he's exempt from that because we've all already seen his old phone be hacked by the verizon employees.
    As a journalism and PR major I am appalled that the country would allow this move which obviously goes against the "transparancy" and FOIA and open records of all government workers e-mails and phone records. He says the blackberry records will be subject to those, but why not use a public device?

    January 22, 2009 at 9:22 pm |
  9. Franky

    Now that's high-tech stuff right there. Very high-tech stuff...that's cool.

    January 22, 2009 at 8:33 pm |
  10. Isabel, RJ, Brazil

    I'm pleased by President Obama!

    Technology is my life, my career, my passion and my addiction, I confess.

    In today's times that people do not care about the other, they not think to be important a simple 'thank you' or 'please', to feel happy for someone that you don't know should be slushy, or take care with someone that you don't know is considered insanity.

    Technology is a tool to extend our abilities.
    We live in times where everything is fast, we want answers and solution faster, so the technology has solved the problem of distance, time and also the absolute necessity of having free time to live.
    With this new phase of life can have friends around the world and talk with them, chatting on the Internet while watching digital TV via satellite, a phone call that sends images, take pictures and send e-mails, check bank accounts online.

    This was the first major victory for Obama!

    January 22, 2009 at 8:33 pm |
  11. lakan

    I think it's great that our president has a Blackberry; it shows how the times have changed. I'm also glad that he wants to stay in touch with his "peeps" 😉

    January 22, 2009 at 8:01 pm |
  12. kitty421

    President Obama won his Blackberry "contest". I'm glad technology allows President Obama to stay current with the time. It's nice to see a president who embraces and feels comfortable with the digital age.

    January 22, 2009 at 7:56 pm |