It's official: White House says Obama to keep his BlackBerry

He'll be able to communicate with 'a small group' of friends

President Barack Obama will indeed keep his beloved BlackBerry, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said on Thursday.

"He has a BlackBerry through a compromise that allows him to stay in touch with senior staff and a small group of personal friends in a way that use will be limited and security enhanced to ensure his ability to communicate, but to do so effectively and do so in a way that is protected," Gibbs said.

Obama has often been seen using his BlackBerry and has professed his attachment to it. But the technology community has wondered if he would continue using the device once he became president, since it isn't rated for the highest security standards approved by the government.

Gibbs would not say who exactly has been approved to communicate with Obama via his BlackBerry, but he said it was a small group of people. He also did not elaborate on the type of security enhancements added to the device.

Obama will undoubtedly be careful about what he types into the BlackBerry, however. "The presumption regarding those e-mails is that they're all subject to the Presidential Records Act," said Gibbs. The act requires presidents to preserve records and allow public access to them through the Freedom of Information Act.

"He believes that it's a way of keeping in touch with folks and a way of doing it outside of getting stuck in a bubble," said Gibbs.

The comments from the White House followed recent reports that Obama might begin using a device called the Sectera Edge that complies with the government's highest security requirements, unlike the BlackBerry. It was designed by General Dynamics Corp. and L-3 Communications and runs on Windows CE software, said Randy Siegel, Microsoft's lead enterprise mobility strategist.

The Sectera Edge was developed as a result of an $18 million contract from the National Security Agency. It has been available for about six months and is being used by tens of thousands of people in the State Department, Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and various intelligence agencies, Siegel said.

He noted that he could not comment on reports that Obama planned to use the Sectera Edge.

One of the main problems with U.S. officials transmitting sensitive data using BlackBerry devices is that the information is sent outside of the U.S., Siegel said. That's because in North America BlackBerry messages are routed through Research In Motion's network operations center in Canada.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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