Obama’s new NSA-approved PDA

One story I didn’t mention last week, but which still seems to be doing the rounds, is the saga of new US President Obama´s PDA. Obama is well-known as a Blackberry-addict, using it constantly during the campaign, but as CNET pointed out such wireless devices are known to be highly insecure and vulnerable to all kinds of illicit monitoring and capture. There is, however, one device approved by the US National Security Agency (NSA), which its own employees use, the Sectera Edge Secure Mobile Environment Portable Electronic Device (SME PED), made by defence contractor, General Dynamics C4 Systems of Scottsdale, Arizona. It looks pretty similar to athe Palm Treo series, apart from the strengthned chasis, ‘secure’ ports and special ‘trusted’ display… all this for just $3500! (I hope he´s better at not losing his phones than me…)

Obama´s new PDA
Obama's new PDA

The rest of us, I guess will just have to put up with our insecure communications. The CNET article gives plenty of scary examples of just how insecure they are to simple hacking, even without the NSA’s rather more sophisticated programs. Of course even such NSA-approved ‘secure’ systems will undoubtedly have built-in backdoors that are accessible to the NSA, which is one of the main reasons they are even involved in the development of such technologies. And it is not just these unusual products of course – remember the Windows backdoor revelations from a few years back? Or further back, the Swedish government’s discovery that the NSA could access all their encrypted Lotus Notes documents – this later reverse engineering of the backdoor by Adam Back shows that the spooks are not without a (very bleak) sense of humour. Obama might now have secure communications, but there is always one agency whose evesdropping even he will not be able to avoid…


Obama by Shepard Fairey
Obama by Shepard Fairey

Today, I am trying not to be cynical, just trying to be hopeful. Today I am wanting to believe that progress is possible. Not everything I want. Not my ideal world. But something that is better, kinder, happier than today.

That´s all.

Good luck, President Obama – I know things won´t work out how everyone wants, but please don´t disappoint us too much.

Obama inauguration security

2-inch glass surrounds Obama at his victory celebrations
2-inch glass surrounds Obama at his victory celebrations (Associated Press)

One of the things, I an my co-authors wrote a lot about in our new book is the increasing prevalence of  ‘island security’, the creation of temporary zones of exception around mega-events like the Olympics of the G-8 summits, or even smaller events like political party conferences. It looks like the inauguration of Barack Obama as President of the USA will be one of the biggest ever  island security operations, which a 3.5km exlcusion area, no-fly zone and thousands of police and military personnel on duty.

When it comes to many of these kinds of events, the security is often symbolic, or what we called ‘stage-set security’, but, rather like the new official presidential limousine (AKA ‘The Beast’), the security involved here is hardly likely to be quite so superficial. Nor, I think, do many of the usual advance objections to heavy-handed policing apply: I don’t think there has been a US president in recent history who has either sparked so much hope by so many in the USA or been quite so likely to be targeted for assassination by a few.