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Obama to get spy-proof smartphone

  • Story Highlights
  • Report: Security officials approve $3,350 smartphone for Barack Obama
  • Obama was an inveterate BlackBerry user during his campaign
  • Security concerns that e-mail could be hacked, or GPS used to locate president
  • Phone capable of encrypting voice conversations, handling classified documents
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(CNN) -- Self-confessed BlackBerry addict President Barack Obama may not have to kick the thumbing habit after all, despite the concerns of a notoriously technophobic White House.

Obama was a self-confessed BlackBerry addict during his White House campaign.

Obama was a self-confessed BlackBerry addict during his White House campaign.

"The president has a BlackBerry," White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said Thursday, clearing up weeks of speculation about whether President Obama would be able to hold on to a cherished method of communicating.

The decision to allow Obama to keep a smartphone is "a compromise that allows him to stay in touch with senior staff and a small group of personal friends," Gibbs told the media in his first press conference since the inauguration.

"Use will be limited and the security is enhanced to ensure his ability to communicate but to do so effectively," Gibbs also said. "And to do so in a way that is protected."

The press secretary refused to provide more details about the new president's device, already being called the "BarackBerry." Video Watch CNN's Errol Barnett reports on the president's new phone »

Obama was often seen hunched over the mobile e-mail cell phone device during his election campaign and even featured at No. 2 on one celebrity Web site's list of obsessive BlackBerry users.

But, like previous Oval Office incumbents, Obama had been expected to take a vow of technological celibacy following his inaugural oath on Tuesday, despite telling CNBC in an interview that security officials would have to "pry it out of my hands." He said a mobile device would help him stay in touch with the real world. Should President Obama be allowed to keep his BlackBerry? Tell us what you think

E-mail has long been treated with suspicion by the Secret Service because of fears it could be hacked into by foreign espionage agencies, or that sensitive information could reach the public domain via a single mistaken strike of the "send" key.

President George W. Bush was forced to give up using e-mail when he took charge, while President Bill Clinton sent just two e-mails during his administration -- one to test that the system worked and the second to veteran astronaut John Glenn before his trip into space in 1998.

There are also concerns that mobile devices such as the BlackBerry, which contain built-in GPS technology, could be hacked, revealing the president's location within a few feet.

But according to reports Thursday, Obama may actually have been issued a spy-proof alternative to his favorite toy.

Writing on his blog for the Atlantic magazine, Marc Ambinder reports that the National Security Agency has approved a $3,350 smartphone -- inevitably dubbed the "BarackBerry" -- for Obama's use.


The exclusive Sectera Edge, made by General Dynamics, is reportedly capable of encrypting top secret voice conversations and handling classified documents.

But Obama may have pushed his Secret Service handlers' technological patience far enough. Ambinder also reports that instant messaging in the White House will still be a definite no-no.

CNN's Martina Stewart contributed to this report.

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