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Bye bye, Blackberry’ for Obama

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barrackobama.jpg When he steps into the White House, US president-elect Barack Obama will have to make significant lifestyle changes, among them abandoning his avid use of email and the Blackberry.

“Presidents typically have to change their lifestyle a great deal the minute they enter the White House because they do have to deal with security issues and particularly with their communications,” said Diane Owen, political sciences professor at Georgetown University.

“Life is kind of not your own for at least the next four, if not eight years,” she adds.

he Blackberry, one of Obama’s last remaining channels to the outside world as his security detail has progressively grown and his circle of advisers has tightened, rarely left his side in the two years he spent on the campaign trail – most often attached to his belt or held in his hand.

His campaign also organised unprecedented levels of grassroots support and fundraising through the Internet and online communication.

But law and ordinary practice rob Obama of some of the tools indispensable to most chief decision-makers as Blackberrys and other wireless handheld devices have become increasingly pervasive.

The Presidential Records Act (PRA), enacted in 1978 after President Richard Nixon destroyed documents in the Watergate scandal, requires all presidential and vice-presidential records to be placed into public archives.

Written, recorded and electronic correspondence by the country’s chief leaders is supposed to be released to the public 12 years after the conclusion of a presidential administration.

Vice President Dick Cheney currently faces a lawsuit in Washington to ensure that no presidential records are destroyed or made unavailable to the public. In 2003, Cheney asserted that his office was not part of the executive branch and is not subject to the PRA.

In mid-2007, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales turned emails over to Congress showing that he was involved in what Democrats said were politically motivated firings of US attorneys, a scandal that led to his resignation.

Obama will be the second president to face up to the prospect of no longer using email and his blackberry setting a likely precedent for Obama.

Bush “sent a message out the day before he took office saying: ‘Bye. See you in a few years because I’m not going to be on this,'” reminded Owen, a specialist in White House technology.

Experts claim that electronic communication can be secured but worries remain over hacking the presidential Blackberry server. Blackberry declined to respond to questions about the security of communications provided by the manufacturer.

But in a sign of the problem, US telephone operator Verizon Wireless on Thursday acknowledged some employees had accessed records from an inactive Obama cellphone account without authorisation.

“All employees who have accessed the account – whether authorised or not – have been put on immediate leave, with pay,” Verizon said, as it apologised to Obama and launched an investigation.

Although the Blackberry may be indispensable on the campaign trail to quickly organise logistics, it is a different affair for a president, whose schedule is tightly managed by aides.

“He has to abandon his freedom. That’s what you have to drop. You can’t go any place without a security detail, you don’t get to drive a car, you don’t get to go to the grocery store. You basically get to drop most of the things that you do routinely in your daily life,” she added. – AFP

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