John Stokes

Obama remains in touch

Obama remains in touch
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One of the most complex questions taxing the first days of the Obama administration can now be answered: The new President will be allowed to keep his beloved Blackberry that hangs permanently from his belt and is used dozens of times a day. The National Security Agency has come up with a technology package that will allow the President to communicate at the Secret level while satisfying legal requirements that all presidential communications must be kept and, when appropriate, made available to the public.

Blackberries are routinely issued to government employees but there was a particular challenge for Obama in the potential embarrassment if any of his texts or voice calls were intercepted. Software for such interceptions are readily available on the web and the Secret Service had originally told Obama that he would have to give up his Blackberry and revert to a more conventional encrypted cellphone.

Obama, who wanted to avoid being trapped in the White House bubble, pushed back and the subject has been much debated in the blogosphere while the Economist has been running a series of Blackberry memos to the new President in recent weeks. The NSA, which is responsible for communications security in America, has developed a new software package that they believe will guarantee the President’s security and so the Blackberry gets to stay.

All this discussion serves to underline the contrast between this administration and the last. President Bush knew little or nothing about modern technology and Donald Rumsfeld, the former Defence Secretary, didn’t use a computer at all. Senator John McCain, Obama’s republican rival for the Presidency, doesn’t do email, or technology generally, and, because of his war injuries, has to rely on his wife to type his messages.