Obama: Hang on to the BlackBerry
Security concerns notwithstanding, Barack Obama is right to keep his trusty BlackBerry as he assumes his responsibilities as President. Pro or con?
Pro: Rewards Outweigh Risks
The thought of our nation’s chief executive having to go without his BlackBerry (RIMM) is ludicrous. E-mail and other mobile and social media tools were essential parts of Obama’s Presidential campaign. He shouldn’t have to give up the very technology that helped him recruit record numbers of Americans into the political process and kept him connected with key advisers, constituents, and current events.
While there are security concerns around the use of e-mail, it’s also a fundamental component of how Obama is perceived by many Americans—as a person who drives change and is open to direct communication with the people he represents.
The information security, physical security, and regulatory issues used as arguments against Obama’s continued use of the BlackBerry can be overcome.
It’s feared that messages might be intercepted or the device could be lost or hacked. While the BlackBerry itself apparently isn’t secure enough for the National Security Agency, there are NSA-approved alternatives that offer similar functionality with enough security to allow e-mailing of classified information.
It’s true that mobile devices can go missing—Proofpoint’s own research found that 27% of U.S companies investigated a data breach due to such a loss or theft. But most mobile professionals aren’t surrounded by Secret Service agents who ensure the security of the President and his personal effects.
Past presidents have relinquished the use of e-mail so that such communications wouldn’t have to be preserved as required by the Presidential Records Act. But, in the spirit of change and openness that Obama represents, the new Administration should adopt clear e-mail archiving policies and deploy technology to enforce them, in marked contrast to the previous Administration.
Con: Land of the BlackBerry-Free
If it were up to me, America would be a BlackBerry-free zone. Why not start with the Oval Office?
Obama’s reliance on his Blackberry could leave him vulnerable both to hackers and to legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act and the 1978 Presidential Records Act, which could render all of his e-mail correspondence public.
Despite such concerns, Obama remains reluctant to relinquish his trusty device, insisting that it will help to stave off the White House “bubble.” In reality, it is the BlackBerry addicts of the world who often suffer the most extreme isolation. A 2008 work-life study from Sheraton Hotels & Resorts showed that 35% of traveling business executives preferred their PDAs over their spouses. While the Presidency is a fundamentally isolating experience, the BlackBerry is not the appropriate remedy.
Some may argue that the BlackBerry has done for Obama what the TV did for JFK, but I am hesitant to credit this technology with Obama’s remarkable achievements. His 3 a.m. e-mail blasts may have won the hearts of many during the campaign, but the campaign is over. From now on, we need a President who communicates thoughtfully rather than constantly. Nine a.m. will do just fine.
Obama has the potential to be remembered as one of the great Presidents—on a par with Lincoln, FDR, and JFK—all of whom managed to connect with Americans long before the “CrackBerry” came into existence. We elected Obama because he was the most capable candidate, not because he was the most wired candidate. Let’s not let the medium overshadow the message.