It took a while, but President Obama has finally gotten rid of his BlackBerry. However, he says he’s now using something akin to a child’s play phone. Yes, that may well sound like an upgrade to some folks, but it seems much of the new phone’s functionality has been removed over security concerns. So what is it exactly? Turns out, it’s a “hardened” Samsung Galaxy S4, approved by the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA).
On the The Tonight Show, Obama joked about the conversation he had with his security aides when he was handed his new smartphone earlier this year.
“I was the first president to have a BlackBerry, and so years passed and no one else has BlackBerrys,” Obama told Jimmy Fallon. “Then finally this year they said ‘Good news Mr. President, we’re going to give you a state-of-the-art smartphone instead of a BlackBerry.’ I thought, ‘Alright, this is cool … I’m excited, and I get the thing and they’re like, ‘Mr. President, for security reasons … it doesn’t take pictures, you can’t text, the phone doesn’t work, you can’t play your music on it.'”
Obama said the device’s limited functionality makes it similar in many ways “to one of those play phones with stickers on it,” telling Fallon, “That’s basically the phone I’ve got.”
Currently, the S4 is the the only device DISA’s DOD Mobility Classified Capability-Secret (DMCC-S) program supports, as it is capable of connecting to the the Secret classified DOD SIPRNet network. Due to the level of classification these commercial phones need in order to be cleared for use by important leaders, there really aren’t that many options when it comes to smart devices. Indeed, as Obama noted, there’s no user-accessible camera, and the available applications on the DMCC-S Galaxy the president now uses “are restricted to a selection from DISA’s Mobile Application Store (MAS).”
Much fuss was made about Obama being the first “high-tech president” when he entered office with his beloved BlackBerry in 2009. At that time, the mobile device was still hugely popular, with the company, then called Research In Motion, enjoying more than 55 percent of the U.S. smartphone market.
Although iPhone and Android handsets grew rapidly in popularity after 2009, thanks to their touchscreens and extra functionality, Obama’s handlers decided to stick with the BlackBerry for its more reliable security features, though even then the president’s phone was modified to make it even more secure. Then in 2014 the While House revealed it was testing Android phones’ security with a view to using them, while just a few months ago reports confirmed that many White House aides are already using iPhones.
As for Obama, if he really is using a smartphone with barely any functionality, the good news is he only has a few months left in office. At which point he’ll be able to get any darn phone he likes.
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