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November 15, 2008 8:08 PM   Subscribe

U.S. Presidents have had an uneven relationship with technology. The Clinton Presidential Library has more than 40 million White House emails on record (but only two are from the man himself). The Bush Administration, on the other hand, junked the Clinton archival process and replaced it with a comically inept alternative that has lost more than five million messages, many concerning official government business. (President Bush, for his part, gave up his longtime address -- G94b@aol.com -- just before his inauguration). Even the Reagan White House had its share of problems with the digital age. Now, as tech-savvy Barack Obama prepares to implement his technology plans, does he have a shot at dragging the Oval Office into the 21st century? Or will he have to surrender his laptop, his email account, and his beloved Blackberry?
posted by Rhaomi (38 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
Nixon lost nine minutes of tape; Bush lost 5,000,000 messages. Nixon wasn't trying hard enough.
posted by shetterly at 8:29 PM on November 15, 2008 [9 favorites]


This is why Twitter was invented.
posted by swift at 8:36 PM on November 15, 2008


Cripes...just set up a BES (Blackberry Enterprise Server) at the White House and treat Obama's BB emails, PIN messages, etc., exactly like all other communications.

I just hope the technology staff in this administration are competent enough to handle this. Which would almost guarantee they are more competent than GWB's staff.
posted by Kickstart70 at 8:45 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Holy crap. I always knew I didn't want to be president, but that NYT article in your last link offers the most compelling reason yet. Anytime he wants to communicate with someone, he will either have to talk on the phone or talk face-to-face. *shudder*
posted by HotToddy at 8:48 PM on November 15, 2008


In addition to concerns about e-mail security, he faces the Presidential Records Act, which puts his correspondence in the official record and ultimately up for public review, and the threat of subpoenas.

These are reasons Obama should embrace e-mail.

Youtube is not transparency.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 8:53 PM on November 15, 2008 [5 favorites]


By lost, you mean "lost," right?
posted by brain cloud at 8:58 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Super sekret yahoo acount.
posted by Artw at 9:11 PM on November 15, 2008


Net Neutrality Vets Join Obama FCC Transition Team
posted by kliuless at 9:37 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


At least he won't have to deal with this anymore.
posted by ChestnutMonkey at 9:49 PM on November 15, 2008


Bush had an AOL account? Sheeeeeit, that explains everything!
posted by furtive at 9:53 PM on November 15, 2008


I am unsurprised that Bush was an AOL user.
posted by brundlefly at 9:53 PM on November 15, 2008 [8 favorites]


I am shocked shocked I tell yuh.
-
posted by Ron Thanagar at 10:05 PM on November 15, 2008


McCain 2.0.
posted by nickyskye at 10:08 PM on November 15, 2008


Yeah, the 'subpoenability' of email doesn't seem like a very realistic reason not to use it. Just don't plot crimes on it. What's so hard about that?

The hackability issue is a bit more complex. Apparently foreign hackers broke into both the Obama and McCain websites. What might work for your average fortune 500 CEO might not be a good idea for the president of the United States, who will obviously have foreign intelligence services trying to get in. I would imagine the NSA could hook him up with some kind of email device that was more secure (maybe a regular blackberry running special crypto software)
posted by delmoi at 10:24 PM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


Aren't all emails sent on blackberries routed through RIM's servers in Canada? doesn't seem like send all the president's email out of the country is a great idea.
posted by jrishel at 4:41 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


By lost, you mean "lost," right?

Dubya needs a constant.
posted by mannequito at 5:53 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I get the no-sending part of email security for a president. But does this also mean he can't receive emails? Why the heck not? Is every communication of the President non-private, I mean, are you telling me he can't communicate via text or email with his daughters?

What are the limits here, surely personal communications are exempt.
posted by nax at 6:27 AM on November 16, 2008


Yeah, the 'subpoenability' of email doesn't seem like a very realistic reason not to use it. Just don't plot crimes on it. What's so hard about that?

I think it's a bit more than that. He doesn't even have to send a single email for this to get him in trouble. Imagine in 4 years when Obama is running for reelection and you see this commercial on TV:

"We want the truth about Obama and we're willing to fight to do it. That's why we filed a Freedom (FREEDOM!) of Information Act request for his email. And do you know what we found? Congratulations emails on his presidency from known-terrorists like William Ayers. Do you really want 4 more years of terrorist appeasement communism in the White House? Vote Palin/O'Reilly 2012."
posted by revgeorge at 6:50 AM on November 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


What he needs is Scylla. Then, instead of worrying about foreign hackers, he'll only have to worry about Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows... and that wily T-Bag.

Shutup. I <3>
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:50 AM on November 16, 2008


that should read I HEART Prison Break. stupid html.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 6:51 AM on November 16, 2008


I knew Barack used a MacBook Pro, but that Pac-Man decal is ridiculously cool.
And look at the stack of FireWire drives - our President-elect is a geek like me!
posted by porn in the woods at 7:06 AM on November 16, 2008 [3 favorites]


porn in the woods: Omigosh. I think I just had a nerd-gasm.

My old clamshell iBook had a sticker that said " RIPE: READY TO EAT" under the Apple. The Pac-Man is even cooler.
posted by grapefruitmoon at 7:11 AM on November 16, 2008


Where can one get that Pac-Man decal?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:24 AM on November 16, 2008


unsubstantiated rumor
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 7:25 AM on November 16, 2008 [8 favorites]


CIA, FBI, top military honcos have email and Blackberries. So do top Administration officials: remember this photo from 2005? The President should have tools at his disposal that will help him govern efficiently and effectively.
posted by woodway at 7:57 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Aren't some of those RNC blackberries with unofficial email addresses through which no government business was every conducted *wink wink*? I second the idea that Presidential email going through Canada is a security issue ...

... obviously he should get a secure iPhone run through a secure White House mail server, right?
posted by immlass at 8:37 AM on November 16, 2008


It seems to me that the first step in getting the president a more secure Blackberry may be to tell everyone he isn't use a Blackberry any more.
posted by meinvt at 9:43 AM on November 16, 2008 [4 favorites]


Sigh. I'd be very disappointed if this administration, of all administrations, couldn't get the technology together to make it so our president can use email when he wants to and needs to use email, wherever he might be.
posted by limeonaire at 10:02 AM on November 16, 2008


I was amazed that Obama would be the first president to use a laptop in the oval office. Haven't they been used since the 80s?
posted by jessamyn at 10:03 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, that last NYTimes article was sort of painful. I can't possibly imagine not having email, no mater how many aides I have...
posted by Phire at 10:17 AM on November 16, 2008


I tried to be thorough, but I missed including this series of essays about a comp-sci professor's struggle to introduce IT to Washington during the Clinton years, which is probably more interesting than half the stuff in the FPP.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:48 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


I <3 my new geek president.
posted by brain cloud at 11:08 AM on November 16, 2008 [1 favorite]


> I was amazed that Obama would be the first president to use a laptop in the oval office. Haven't they been used since the 80s?

I it more has to do with the information processing aspect of the position. The President sits on top of a massive information gathering and summarization network, and until recently, that was still mostly handled by paper memos and briefs. They would have used a laptop, but all of the various agencies and departments would still be handing them paper documents, as they would not have had a secure way for all information from all those different departments (DOD, CIA, FBI, NSA, etc.) to dump their stuff together in a digital form. I mean, that was in part the failing found by the 9/11 commission: there was little channels of communication outside of paper memos between those agencies.

Now I think there has been enough of a technological and user shift that would make having a laptop in the oval office make sense, before all a computer would be doing is providing pdfs or scans of documents already printed out by other departments.

Now if they made RSS feeds from each agency available, along with a subversion/wiki based change tracking system for documents and legislature, that would be sweet.

The irony of the secure email system is that to be in compliance with the Presidential Records Act, the most obvious and well established system can't be used (PGP encryption), because the stored emails would be unreadable. Unless the PGP private key was kept also, which would defeat the security of the encryption system if said key was kept outside of Obama's skull. (of course, how cool would that be to have your PGP key trust verified by the President).
posted by mrzarquon at 11:54 AM on November 16, 2008


Well... the intelligence community in the USA has Intellipedia. Given Obama's obvious technical understanding, one wonders whether he'll be given a login. Would make sense. Imagine a White House Wiki. That would be pretty awesome, actually.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:34 PM on November 16, 2008


Aren't all emails sent on blackberries routed through RIM's servers in Canada? doesn't seem like send all the president's email out of the country is a great idea.

I'm pretty sure this is not the case when you have a Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) running on your network, which is how most large organizations have it set up. I believe it's only when you use RIM's "Blackberry Internet Service" (BIS) that all information passes through RIM's servers.

However, since the data is still passing over the cellular network, it's not a secure system in the formal sense (approved for classified data), although messages are encrypted in transit from the BES server to the device, and they support S/MIME for end-to-end encryption if set up correctly.

There is a PDA-ish device made by GD called the "Sectera" which is NSA Type 1 approved. I suspect that is the closest thing that the President could get to a Blackberry, while still being able to use it without having to constantly worry about whether they were seriously violating IA rules.
posted by Kadin2048 at 9:56 PM on November 16, 2008


C'mon, Google Groups, gimme a goldmine...
Your search - author:G94b@aol.com - did not match any documents.
Aw, hell.
posted by Spatch at 9:32 AM on November 17, 2008


However, Spatch, your search request has been forwarded to Homeland Security.
posted by nax at 5:00 PM on November 17, 2008


"Keep the Blackberry," by Ruth Marcus, Washington Post p. A21, Nov. 19 2008
posted by woodway at 3:20 PM on November 19, 2008


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