Obama wins battle for beloved BlackBerry

In his first indisputable triumph since entering the White House, US President Barack Obama has won the battle to retain his BlackBerry, facing down the objections of his security staff and government lawyers.


AFP - Barack Obama celebrated the first triumph of his presidency on Thursday, revealing he will get to keep his beloved BlackBerry.

"I have won the fight, but I don't think it is up and running yet," Obama said during an impromptu visit to the White House briefing room.

At a time of deep economic crisis and turmoil abroad, one of the most burning questions facing the new White House has been the fate of the president's trusty portable communications device -- his window to the outside world.

Being the world's most powerful man apparently has its advantages, with Obama facing down the objections of Secret Service protectors and government lawyers trying to take away the cellular device almost always clipped to his belt.

"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," said White House spokesman Robert Gibbs. "It's a pretty small group of people."

"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," he added.

The spokesman would not say exactly how the president's device had been protected or whether some kind of encryption was applied to prevent the device from being hacked or from giving away his whereabouts.

According to The Atlantic magazine, the president will be using a standard BlackBerry but one equipped with a "super-encryption package" developed by an intelligence agency, probably the National Security Agency.

Gibbs confirmed that any emails sent or received by the president would be subject to the post-Watergate Presidential Records Act of 1978, which requires that a record be kept of all White House communication.

Obama's BlackBerry was a fixture on his belt or in his hand on the campaign trail, and he has said the device was a valuable part of a wider strategy to escape the White House fishbowl.

"It's just one tool among a number of tools that I'm trying to use, to break out of the bubble, to make sure that people can still reach me," he told CNN.

"If I'm doing something stupid, somebody in Chicago can send me an email and say, 'What are you doing?'

"I want to be able to have voices other than the people who are immediately working for me be able to reach out and send me a message about what's happening in America," he added.

In an op-ed column this week in the Los Angeles Times, John Podesta, who headed Obama's transition team, said allowing him to keep his BlackBerry was important to allow the president to stay in touch with the outside world.

"Without his virtual connection to old friends and trusted confidants beyond the bubble that seals off every president from the people who elected him, he'd be like a caged lion padding restlessly around the West Wing, wondering what's happening on the other side of the iron bars that surround the People's House.

"The president's ability to reach outside his inner circle gives him access to fresh ideas and constructive critics," Podesta said. "As president, it is more important than ever that he remain connected."

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