Smart phones, stupid people

When a phone's big memory becomes a big pain

A Mexican press attache walked off with "six or seven" Blackberries belonging to US officials at a summit between the presidents of Canada, Mexico, and some guy named Bush in New Orleans last week.

Press officer Rafael Quintero Curiel was captured on video tape picking up the smart phones, which were deliberately left outside a meeting room by officials. He was promptly canned.

Apparently, the theft went undetected until White House staffers noticed an unusually large number of visits to on their data account. (Note to my more literal minded readers: that was a joke.)

Curiel's own explanation of the incident is more innocent (and to my ears, more likely). He says he found two devices outside a room where White House staffers were meeting, thought they belonged to the Mexican delegation, picked them up, and handed them over to a driver to deliver to the Mexican embassy. No cloak and dagger, no poisoned lipstick, no microdots containing secret US plans glued to his eyelids.

Just the same, David Gewirtz, email geek and author of Where Have All the Emails Gone? says this is yet more proof that the government's lax attitude toward data security could one day have disastrous consequences.

Had Curiel been an operative of a foreign government -- let's say Korea or Syria, just for fun -- he could have had access to thousands of classified emails and other documents stored on the devices, says Gewirtz:

A typical BlackBerry has 64MB of memory, at minimum (they also often have expansion slots for more memory). Let's put this in perspective. The King James Bible is about 1,120 pages, or about 2.5MB, so a typical BlackBerry could hold about 25 King James Bible's worth of information. That's the equivalent in strategic US government information of about 28,000 printed pages of data, or seven complete sets of all seven Harry Potter novels.

As Gewirtz and others have noted, Blackberries can be remotely disabled and erased, but only if you know they've gone AWOL. Curiel had plenty of time to copy the data stored on each device, had he wanted to.

Lest you think I'm being partisan, the Democrats don't exactly have a lock on digital intelligence either. Despite the popularity of Blackberries, Washington DC is still mostly an analog town. But the next occupant of the White House will be facing serious digital dilemmas. Let's hope he or she hires the right geeks to handle them, before the bad guys take advantage of our smart phone stupidity.

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