Obama May Keep BlackBerry, But His Team Loses IM

(AP)
It sounds like Barack Obama has won the war to keep his BlackBerry after he crosses the presidential threshold, but the rest of the incoming White House staff might have lost a battle over another commonplace tech tool.

Politico's Ben Smith writes that the new administration's legal team is signing everybody off of instant messenger.

"They just told us flat out we couldn't IM in the White House," one senior staffer told Politico.

The IM setback comes just after the tech-savvy president-elect announced that, despite initial objections from his legal team, he was probably going to hang on to some sort of mobile e-mail device.

"I think we're going to be able to beat this back," Obama told CNN's John King when asked about his BlackBerry. "... I think we're going to be able to hang onto one of these. Now, my working assumption, and this is not new, is that everything I write on e-mail could end up being on CNN. So I make sure that — to think before I press 'send.'"

You may ask why the White House is cracking down on simple technology that almost all of us use every day.

Well, there's always the chance that something embarrassing gets seared onto the digital record.

But, on the less scandalous end of the spectrum, the executive branch's public disclosure laws were written before the digital revolution. As Smith points out, "The Presidential Records Act requires White House documents to become public five years after a president leaves office, and most lawyers think it would apply to any instant messages discussing government business."

The 1978 could be updated to cover modern technologies – Matthew Yglesias and Ezra Klein say it should be – but, in the end, electronic communication creates a permanent record and somebody will always want to take a peek at what went on in the White House.

As Democrats on the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees recently reminded the Bush administration, "We believe it is vital the presidential and vice presidential documents belonging to the American people be preserved."
  • James Klatell

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