A presidential connection

Our view: Mr. Obama's BlackBerry should help keep him in touch

January 18, 2009

Even now, President-elect Barack Obama is struggling to keep his beloved BlackBerry. For reasons of security and privacy, Mr. Obama has been pressed to give it up. For a number of other reasons, that would be a shame.

Through a long, grueling election year, Mr. Obama used his BlackBerry to stay in touch with a wide assortment of acquaintances beyond his inner circle of political operatives. They should stay within easy reach. Isolation should not be a cost of the 21st-century presidency.

For as long as presidents have been living behind the White House fence, the country's chief executives have struggled to elude their keepers and connect with ordinary citizens. Abraham Lincoln held open houses to find out what was on people's minds. Harry Truman used whistle-stop tours to speak and listen to audiences gathered on the track. Some critics have argued that George W. Bush might have made better decisions if he had been able to talk with friends on the cell phone he was forced to give up when he became president.

Not having that BlackBerry would be particularly painful for this tech-savvy president, who used text messages and Internet innovations to build support and raise record amounts of campaign cash. Mr. Obama intends to use the same tools to continue mobilizing his millions of supporters. But deprived of his BlackBerry, he would miss the texting action.

It doesn't have to be that way. A Defense Department project has produced two new personal digital assistants explicitly designed to act as replacements for a BlackBerry, complete with classified communications ports and encrypted data storage. General Dynamics is selling the Sectera Edge for $3,350, a small price to pay for secret communications, wouldn't you say?

The folks at Research in Motion, which produces the BlackBerry, say their messages are already encrypted and many Washington insiders use them now. But security experts have warned there is no perfect encryption, and an Obama BlackBerry would likely prompt a massive code-breaking effort.

Cigarettes and a BlackBerry - even a president is entitled to a few small vices.

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