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1/16/2009
07:44 PM
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Can Obama Keep His BlackBerry?

Joe Hagin, former deputy White House chief of staff, says keeping the BlackBerry may wind up being more of a political issue than a technical one.

All of the talk centers on the president-elect keeping his BlackBerry, but there are other options out there that could keep him connected and comply with security standards. Microsoft has been working with government agencies to create a smartphone that's capable of receiving mobile e-mail while still adhering to the intelligence community's strict security policies.

General Dynamics' Sectera Edge is a hefty smartphone that has a customized Windows CE build that makes it more secure than a BlackBerry, according to Microsoft's Randy Siegel. The handset uses voice encryption and high-assurance Internet Protocol encryption, and it's been designated by the National Security Agency as a Type 1 device, which means it has been approved for classified voice, Web, and e-mail use.

The rugged handset has a full QWERTY keyboard, Wi-Fi, GSM, and CDMA capabilities, is dust- and waterproof, can be dual-booted, and is capable of a variety of apps ranging from viewing Office documents to detecting roadside improvised explosive devices. Siegel said the thick form factor and the base price of about $3,350 per unit has led to a slower adoption rate in government agencies, but there are already thousands of devices deployed by the State Department, the NSA, the CIA, and other three-letter agencies. Microsoft is collaborating with companies to bring out secure devices with a more appealing form factor, and the consumer market may soon reap some benefits.

"We do plan to port security aspects of this to the next generation of Windows Mobile," Siegel said.

The move also would enable the government to leverage its existing investment in Microsoft software like Exchange and SharePoint, according to Siegel. Additionally, the president would be using American products and technology that don't need to relay data outside of the country like a BlackBerry would.

A Windows-powered device would potentially solve the security concerns, but the legal and political issues remain. Siegel said he hopes Obama does keep some smartphone on him, and that one of the reasons the president-elect has been so effective is because he's been so connected.

Hagin and Siegel do agree that the 44th president will have the final say on the matter.

"There's this notion that the Secret Service will take a smartphone away from him, and that's nonsense," said Siegel. "At the end of the day, he's the president, and the president can use it if he chooses to."

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