Internet/Telecom/Social Media

Good for Obama!

According to today’s NYTimes, President-elect Barack Obama is digging in his heels about giving up his BlackBerry. Good for him! I understand that there are security and legal concerns – cell phones can be tracked via GPS and cell towers and they can be turned on remotely by the service providers, and presidential emails are not privileged and private, they’re documented and archived and have been since email had the post-Watergate documentation rules applied to them.

But how often does a President demand that everyone around him relinquish their cell phones for security reasons? How hard would it be for the Secret Service to turn to the President and say “Your phone too, sir.” Seriously, when security provisions would be that strict, the Secret Service isn’t going to take no for an answer, even from the President.

And given that everything the President says and does is documented, how is archiving emails any different? Historians will know in a few decades when President Bush II called over to the East Wing and said he’d be late for dinner (if they care, anyway) – how is Obama’s emailing or texting Michelle any different? And popping the Presidential bubble is far too important, especially after eight years of a president who’s bubble was not only thick and stifling, but opaque too.

President-elect Obama, you were quoted as saying “They’re going to pry it out of my hands.” Good. Don’t let them.

7 replies »

  1. I guess I’m confused. Are you saying “good, keep your blackberry” , or “good, it’s going to be taken away”?

    The post seems contradictory, so I don’t get a clear feeling where you stand on it.

    For me, he should lose it. First off, Michelle can pick up the phone in the kitchen (if she ends up cooking, which I doubt will happen all that often) and call the den. It takes less work, actually, than texting an email. Secondly, he has no need for anything “personal” that can’t be handled face to face. That is, he has a very high profile, very public job for the next 4 years (8 if he wants to try for that). During that time, he has little to no “personal space”, that comes with the job. If you don’t like those grounds, don’t take the job.

    Is that hard on the family? Sure. Is it disruptive to his life? Sure. Again, that’s part of the job description. If you don’t want the duties/limitations, don’t take the job and get the perks and longer term bonuses. Quite simple.

    And if _anything_ happens to anyone in his family, he’ll know faster by secret service radio than by any email. And it will be safe and secure information, and not likely to be hacked or a joke/punk.

    Seriously, there’s no good reason for him to keep it. There’s only “but, it seems wrong to make him give up that part of his personal life”.. it’s not wrong, he chose this job. If he wants it, he’ll have to deal with the rules.

  2. I re-wrote the last sentence to make my position clearer, but he should absolutely keep the BlackBerry. There’s no reason why relinquishing the phone has to be one of the rules.

    My point is that his emails and texts and calls from the BlackBerry, his surfing habits, are no different legally than his printed correspondence and recorded conversations. Since there’s no legal difference that I can see, there’s no good legal reason to deny the phone, therefore he should not be prevented from having it.

    Security is a little different, but most of the time people could track the President’s movements by the cell phones and pagers of the people around him if not via the President’s own phone, and so taking the phone away from the President serves no legitimate security purpose I can see except in those situations when everyone’s phone is left behind for security reasons – like when Air Force One secretly flies overseas.

    And, frankly, if the President can’t get the GPS and service-provider remote-turn on “features” disabled on his phone, then we’ve really gone over the edge on surveillance in this country.

  3. I was pretty sure that was your position..

    And the pertinent bit is, NO ONE around the president should be trackable via GPS, and the only way to ensure that is to leave the transceivers behind. By everyone. Sure, you can probably turn that off.. but it is also probably a hackable thing that could be turned back on without notice, too. Blackberries weren’t created to be that secure because they weren’t created to carry national secret info (or so I would suspect).

    From the “we want to snoop on the Pres” context, sure.. his blackberry is subject to all the rest of the disclosure standards, but it’s also a publicly hackable account which can be spoofed, and just because we have a standard of disclosure in place doesn’t mean the “general public” has a right to see “everything on demand and uncensored”. There’s no guarantee that someone won’t “slip” and send a classified correspondence to the wrong address by mistake, and that shouldn’t end up on youtube.

    six of one, 1/2 dozen of the other I think..

  4. Again, though, unless I vastly underestimate the security protocols for Presidential aides (which is possible), the vast majority of the time the people around the President will be trackable via GPS. And so removing a transceiver from him does no good since the people around him can be tracked.

    As for making his phone secure, an EE from RIM could do it with a soldering iron and a microscope in a way that would NOT be repairable without taking possession of his phone. Remote access is very powerful but tends to also be very fragile – removing a chip or a couple of resistors from a circuit would be sufficient, and the phone could be marked by the SS to make it impossible to forge.

    Access to federal resources makes these sort of things easy.

    And classified correspondence is never supposed to be sent via email at all, no matter whether you’re the President or a government scientist. Anyone who emails the White House with classified information deserves to be fired immediately (I have NO patience for stupidity like that), regardless of what email it goes to.

    Does you know if the President gets his own laptop at least? I’d probably less anal about his crackberry if he had personal access to a computer that he could use without having to have underlings surf the news and RSS feeds for him.

  5. Well, to be honest, I’m surprised they are making such a stink over the blackberry (other than it being readily hackable). So I have no idea if he’d have a laptop or not. Given that he clearly would have access to a computer, it makes no sense to deny him a laptop (even if it’s government issued).. but he might not have generic wi-fi on it to prevent it from being compromised.

    I’m guessing there are unclassified computers (including a laptops) with generic internet access they have access to in the white house.

    But, since you’re probably correct in that no one else around the Pres. loses their phones, they are kind of hard pressed to justify him losing his personal access by taking his blackberry.

  6. Yeah, I’d think so too, but I’ve never seen a computer monitor on Bush’s desk, so I’m not confident of that. It’s not like it’d be hard to spoof where the traffic was coming from, or to wire Ethernet in secure conduit so it couldn’t be tapped, or to encrypt everything….

    Technology in general isn’t a panacea, but these days it’s the best way to keep up on what’s going on in the world, and it’d be really nice to have a President who is in a position keep up on national and world news independently of his aides. I’ll even go so far as to say it’s critical.

  7. He’s too old for it anyway: at 44 fonts get too small to read, and he’ll get carpal tunnel fidding with it. This is what personal assistants are for.