Obama, his BlackBerry and the spies
The New York Times ran a piece on November 15th about the likely pending separation of U.S. President-Elect Barack Obama from his Research In Motion (RIM:TSX) BlackBerry. The upshot was that Mr. Obama had thrived off of the device, and used it specifically to stay in contact with his extended circle of friends throughout the campaign – many of whom would be full of the type of advice that politicians receive on a regular basis. Three days later, a similar reference appeared in a DTM story here at home.
According to the NYT, the Presidential Records Act is the problem that will ultimately come between the two:
…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.
Over at the Globe and Mail, the Presidential Records Act is a barrier for a different reason:
The Presidential Records Act prohibits the U.S. leader from communication that may see any confidential information slip into the public sphere and risk major security breaches.
Whether it be concern about all emails being on the public record post January 20th, or interception by foreign government, it looks as though the soon-to-be-President is about to lose his modern day six shooter.
What I don’t understand is the day-to-day BlackBerry security concern, either of politicians or Chief Executives. Messages sent via BlackBerry are encrypted with the security software of Mississauga-based Certicom (CIC:TSX). Their elliptic curve cryptography is the key — a security capability that has been deemed to be the finest in the world by none other than the U.S. Government’s National Security Agency; at least up to the Top Secret level. For those that are in the know, “Top Secret” isn’t all that high a security clearance level. Most precious government “intel” would rank higher than that, but not commercial matters — unless the source of the info was also identified. For the business world, Top Secret security capability should do certainly the trick.
If you think a landline telephone is any safer, think again. As most security consultants will tell you, any foreign government with the resources and the interest can listen to your company’s telephone calls, depending upon where they are originating from. Whether it be patents, RFP pricing, or an M&A bidding strategy, there are no secrets if a sophisticated foreign nation has the desire and commercial rationale for sticking their nose into your firm’s business.
If what you are dealing with is so sensitive that you are considering ditching the Certicom-powered Blackberry, don’t kid yourself that things will be any safer over a landline. What guys like Frank Quatrone have learned, however, is that the server never forgets what you write. So if you are worried about the SEC or the Department of Justice caring someday down the road, there’s a reason to kiss email goodbye.
Just ask Mark Cuban how much fun it would be right now parsing an email exchange, rather than a “he said-she said” telephone call, regarding his sale of shares in Mamma.com….
(disclosure – I own RIM)