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January 23, 2009

Obama keeps his BlackBerry

POLITICS/TECHNOLOGY - The White House confirmed yesterday Obama will be able to keep his beloved BlackBerry and will become the first sitting U.S. president to use email – a decision that no doubt represents a marketing windfall for Waterloo Canada based Research In Motion Ltd., which makes the popular wireless device.

It's a key victory for the tech-savvy Obama, who fought to stay connected once he entered the White House despite concerns voiced by the U.S. government's security machine.

But there are some caveats.

For one thing, the president will only be able to use his BlackBerry – reportedly an aging "World Edition" model – for personal communication with "senior staff and a small group of personal friends." Obama is therefore unlikely to be transmitting state secrets via his BlackBerry.

Obama's BlackBerry will apparently also need to undergo additional security "enhancements" to ensure his communications remain protected.

RIM has already created a special Network Operations Centre, the equivalent of a central post office for BlackBerry email, for the U.S. government so that official email does not have to go through RIM's main centre in Waterloo.

Obama's BlackBerry has been a constant companion during the campaign and transition.

Previous presidents have chosen not to use email because it can be subpoenaed by Congress and courts and may be subject to public records laws. Obama says he's "Okay" with that, insisting that as president he should be expected to behave responsibly. The Bush Administration in contrast was notoriously secretive.

While it's not surprising that extra steps may need to be taken to make the president's BlackBerry as bullet-proof as possible, many consider the BlackBerry wireless email platform to be among the most secure on the market, which is why it is used extensively by corporations and governments around the world.

In fact, RIM already counts the United States government as its single largest customer and has had its technology vetted for use by a broad range of departments, including the FBI, Department of Defence, Congress and the White House.

It's not clear whether the president will simply have his existing BlackBerry model upgraded, or will outfitted with a newer, specially designed ObamaBerry.

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