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White House Confirms Obama Is Keeping His BlackBerry

This is written by Declan McCullagh, CNET News' chief political correspondent.

(AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Barack Obama will be able to keep his beloved BlackBerry, an aide confirmed on Thursday, making him the first U.S. president to use e-mail regularly.

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters that, thanks to a "compromise," his boss will be able to keep a security-enhanced BlackBerry and use it for e-mail.

That will, Gibbs said, allow Obama to continue to keep in touch with people and avoid getting "stuck in a bubble." (The new Washington insider test: Do you know the president's secret e-mail address?)

Gibbs didn't offer details, but the contours of the compromise seem to be: official, work-related e-mail messages will be subject to the Presidential Records Act and the possibility of eventual disclosure. But strictly personal communications -- with family, for instance -- will be exempt.

This makes sense. As we reported last week, federal law explicitly exempts from disclosure any "personal records" that do not relate to the president's official function.

Those include electronic records that are "of a purely private or non-public character" and don't relate to official duties; the law lists diaries, journals, notes, and presidential campaign materials as examples. Similarly, the Freedom of Information Act prevents files from being released if the disclosure would significantly jeopardize "personal privacy."

Thursday's official confirmation ends weeks of speculation about whether Obama would follow the lead of his two immediate predecessors. Bill Clinton sent only two e-mail messages as president and has yet to pick up the habit. George W. Bush ceased using e-mail in January 2001 but said he was looking forward to e-mailing "my buddies" after leaving Washington, D.C.

"It's not just the flow of information," Obama said a recent interview with CNBC. "I mean, I can get somebody to print out clips for me, and I can read newspapers. What it has to do with is having mechanisms where you are interacting with people who are outside of the White House in a meaningful way. And I've got to look for every opportunity to do that--ways that aren't scripted, ways that aren't controlled, ways where, you know, people aren't just complimenting you or standing up when you enter into a room, ways of staying grounded."

One limitation of the BlackBerry, though, is that it does not appear to have been certified by the National Security Agency as secure enough for Top Secret voice communications. For that, there's the chunky, unwieldy, but built-to-military-specifications Sectera Edge, a combination PDA-phone that runs Windows Mobile.

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