Obama’s Top Secret PDA


Barack Obama already seems a bit like a superhero, or at least a character in a superhero comic. Now he looks a bit like a James Bond. After all the fuss over whether Obama can keep his BlackBerry, it looks like Obama will be using a  P.D.A. far more advanced than the one John McCain allegedly invented. Gadgetwise describes Obama’s new P.D.A.:

The nation’s e-mailer in chief may be carrying something called a Sectéra Edge, which is made by the military contractor General Dynamics (you know, the submarine people). The product description reads: “Developed for the National Security Agency’s Secure Mobile Environment Portable Electronic Device (SME PED) program, the Sectéra Edge is certified to protect wireless voice communications classified Top Secret and below as well as access e-mail and Web sites classified Secret and below.”

The Sectéra looks like most P.D.A.’s, and operates like one when in normal mode. But a press of a button on the front of the device engages “classified mode” (for added effect, the screen background turns red when this mode is activated). It works on GSM and CDMA networks (AT&T, T-Mobile and Sprint support the device, according to the company’s Web site), and will be able to get on Wi-Fi networks sometime in the third quarter of this year. It operates on a Windows Mobile platform.

For there to be secure communications between two parties, both must have a device that conforms to the necessary encryption protocols. That can include portable units like the Edge, but also landline phones and computers. Mobile calls or e-mail messages between Mr. Obama and Michelle Obama’s civilian P.D.A. would most likely have to take place in nonsecure mode, as family members of the president rarely have the necessary security clearance to warrant such a device.

Another thing that makes the Sectéra Edge fairly thin on the ground: each unit costs $3,350. It is unclear if its price drops to $19.99 with a two-year contract, but it seems unlikely.

This sure makes an iPhone look cheap with a $3,350 price tag. For most people the real cost of a smart phone isn’t the cost of the device but the monthly charges for the data plan. Do they charge the White  House extra for the added security or do regular network prices apply?

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