Obama's Blackberry Is No Security Threat
FUD Watch: CSO Senior Editor Bill Brenner notes that the dumbest security FUD can be found in the government. Exhibit A: Reports that President-Elect Barack Obama will be forced to give up his Blackberry for security reasons
By Bill Brenner , Senior Editor
November 20, 2008 — CSO —
One concern is that all Obama's writings will need to be stored under lock and key to satisfy the Presidential Records Act, which requires that all presidential correspondence be seared onto the official record. The other, more nonsensical argument is that his Blackberry could pose a security risk.
The argument is that hackers could break into his inbox and harvest data that's potentially damaging to national security. Here there are reminders of when Paris Hilton's cell phone was hacked, and when it was reported that a foreign entity had penetrated sensitive data on laptops in the campaigns of both Obama and Sen. John McCain.
The latter incident is worthy of concern, but that doesn't mean Obama's Blackberry is a threat to national security. That, I believe, is FUD generated from within Washington's security establishment. On the drive home today I heard an interesting NPR interview with Newsweek columnist Jonathan Alter where he argued for Obama to stay plugged in [he also wrote a column on the subject].
Alter noted that taking away Obama's Blackberry would contribute to the isolation that has become part of the modern presidency. He notes that President Bush would have benefitted from fuller access to e-mail because a wider range of friends and associates could have weighed in on some of the major debates of the Bush White House. Some of Bush's friends, by e-mail, could have persuaded Bush to switch direction and avoid some of the trouble he got into, Alter says. That may be overstating things, but Alter's wider point -- that presidents are more successful when they are "plugged in" -- is dead on.
In Lincoln's time, plugged in meant throwing open the White House doors so he could hear what was on people's minds. In Franklin Roosevelt's day, plugged in meant driving around rural Georgia in his hand-controlled car, meeting people and listening to their concerns. Alter argues, rightly so, that in an age where the president can no longer have Lincoln-style open houses or drive around the open countryside, e-mail can be an important way for Obama to stay connected to a wider group of people. That could go a long way in keeping him in touch with the concerns of ordinary Americans.