Free the Obama Blackberry

Free the Obama Blackberry

Summary: Trying to take the President "off the grid" is becoming more technically difficult and more legally indefensible every day.


Barack Obama wins Presidency, commemorative Time Magazine coverPresident-elect Barack Obama is being told he will have to give up his Blackberry, by aides who fear subpoenas, the Presidential Records Act and e-mail insecurity. (Framed copies of this Time cover are already priced at $19.95.)

While this is not entirely an open source story, it does get to the heart of what the Internet (and open source) make possible in all our lives. I have a four-word response.

Free the Obama Blackberry.

The reason for our obsession with reducing sources of Presidential records over the last 40 years has been the occasional Presidential obsession for bending and breaking laws.

That is the heart of the problem. Not secrecy. Not security. Not privacy.

For too many in the government and media, the main lesson of Watergate seems to have been don't record anything. If they can't get proof you can be above the law.

Nonsense. And putting paid to this nonsense is an important policy point.

But let's make this a tech story again.

  1. Can we maintain text records on phone calls? Yes we can.
  2. Can we do the same on cell records? Yes we can.
  3. Can we make people testify to private conversations? Yes we can.
  4. Can we put this President, and all future Presidents, back under the restraints of the law? Yes we can.

Computer technology creates an easy-to-follow audit trail on everything we do, whether we're blog writers or the President of the United States.

Trying to take the President "off the grid" is becoming more technically difficult and more legally indefensible every day.

My advice to the President-elect is that when they come for your Blackberry, say no.

And suggest they get one as well. Or maybe the new Google Android.

Topics: Browser, Collaboration, Hardware, Mobility, Open Source

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Executive records

    Dana said: "For too many in the government and media, the main lesson of Watergate seems to have been don’t record anything. If they can’t get proof you can be above the law." I agree the "don't record anything" attitude is not working in practice. Consider the Tyco International scandal. Those Tyco executives who minimized their records are in jail, whereas the exec who had lots of records was set free. [url=][/url] -Ben
  • RE: Free the Obama Blackberry

    I agree 100%.
  • Right idea for wrong reasons

    I have two objections to a Presidential Crackberry:

    1) He won't need it. Using one is a poor substitute for the kind of support staff he has in abundance.

    2) It's a security risk. It's not all that hard to get a "signature" from one, and after that the fool thing can be used like a homing beacon. Assuming the Presidential Protection Detail isn't totally brain-dead, they'll veto the idea.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • I agree

      As much I'd like a president who understand technology, not everything needs to be in the White House.

      If it's a risk to his safety, he should not have it.
  • RE: Free the Obama Blackberry

    There are audit trails -- whether it's paper or electronic. Seems like there ought to be a way to use the BlackBerry for routine things. Also, isn't the president entitled to a little privacy where his family communications are concerned?

    A tongue-in-cheek fantasy letter to the President-explores how he might cope with his thumbing addiction at
  • Not going to happen

    Obama has lost his ability to be anonymous. He'll have to move to a deserted island to get any privacy for the rest of his life.

    There's no way he can be sporting communication devices on his person.

    Not going to happen.
  • RE: Free the Obama Blackberry

    The heart of the issue is that records lead to openness & honest government. Only illegal acts need to be off the record. We're hopefully about to go to court in an attempt to recover 8 years of executive branch records. I feel that the drama of the current administration about records has been to hide maybe illegal acts but highly questionable acts from the public. With president elects stance on this I don't think it will be a problem. He's working for US so hopefully he will not have things to hide.

    Remember the quote from the wiretapping issue "if you aren't doing something wrong what's the problem".
    • re: "If you aren't doing something wrong..."

      Depends on who decides what's wrong:

      If you live in Zimbabwe, listening to a speech by anybody not from the ruling party can be worth a beating and a few days in jail...if you've got a lawyer. If not, well, it might be worse

      Writing a non government-approved newspaper article can have the same reward...

      My point is: Nobody, except myself needs to know what I say or do. Privacy and freedom go hand in hand.
      • Here, here!

        Or is it "hear, hear?"
        Anyway, that is why we have the Bill of Rights. Not to protect the bad guys, but to protect the populace from an overreaching, incompetent, and/or corrupt government.
      • RE: Free the Obama Blackberry

        For too many in the government and media, the main lesson of Watergate seems to have been dont record anything. If they cant get proof you can be above the law.<a href=""><font color="LightGrey"> k</font></a>
  • Well spoken article...

    if you only want a piece of the story. The author obviously has no concept whatsoever of security as it relates to national issues, the possibilities that the American obsession with gadgets opens the doors for, etc.

    I have an idea, quite novel too! Why don't you stick to writing about technology and NOT about national security issues! I would hope you are at least qualified for that as it seems anybody with half a wit or less can have a blog these days.
    • Arguable

      I agree (for the most part) with Ethical_Loner (although one
      doesn't need to be nasty towards bloggers), I think that there
      are two Obamas: The President-Elect of the US, and the
      private Barrack Obama. The president-elect should never use
      a Blackberry for security reasons, but the private citizen
      should be able to do so for personal reasons, like every other
      citizen of the US. This applies to cell phones and other
      communication media, so why not Blackberries?
  • RE: Free the Obama Blackberry

    maybe launch a couple of missles while you deface his MySpace site...
  • RE: Free the Obama Blackberry

    I would have to agree with some of the comments here. National Security is at risk and I don't want to see an accidential slip up where the President thinks it might be secure to send a password code over his blackberry. Don't say it WON'T happen. Just look back for the last 11 months and see how many articles relate to government laptops being lost, etc. Does anyone think this guy is any different then all the other government official? I would have to say NO. Flame me if you must, but I think the American public can vouch for our trust in government at this point.
  • No

    Many of you assume that anything off the record must
    be illegal. No.

    People are more open to speak their minds when they
    know their every word isn't being subject to outside
    scrutiny. We'll just have to agree to disagree if you
    don't believe that.

    Then there's the security issue. All messages on the
    BlackBerry network end up going through BlackBerry
    servers. In North America, those servers are in
    Canada. Even though Canada is an ally, the US
    government would lose control of the communications
    once they crossed the border and that information
    would be subject to court and government review and
    subpoena in Canada. That opens an untenable bag of

    The simple answer here is that the President must have
    a staff that he can trust and must offload mundane
    tasks to them to the extent possible. President-elect
    Obama will also find that once he assumes office, he
    will have an over-abundance of ways to communicate in
    all forms. Can a BlackBerry be integrated into that?
    Not as the situation stands now. Not as the BlackBerry
    infrastructure stands now.

    Why not just hire a staff you completely trust and let
    them vet your communications?
    • Silly

      The paranoia over Blackberry messages really shocks
  • RE: Free the Obama Blackberry

    As long as he doesn't send love letters to a White House staffer and as long as he doesn't share Secured Messages over the net, he should be able to TM and EM with a will. But, relax. He won't have time for either.
  • RE: Free the Obama Blackberry


    Anything that has to do with the security of the country should not be available to "just anyone".

    That said, this material doesn't belong on a Blackberry.
    Update victim
  • RE: Free the Obama Blackberry

    What???s the big deal - His Military Aid with the black briefcase has one. Way not configure his for 2 Secure accounts, 1 professional (Presidential)and 1 personal (Family).
  • RE: Free the Obama Blackberry

    Any system can be intercepted and hacked. Has anyone here ever heard of the NSA? What would lead you to believe that the Chinese or whomever could not intercept the "Presidential Crackberry?