Prez O’s Blackberry ~ Teachable Moment

Great story on CNET. Prez Obama gets to keep his Blackberry. Thank goodness. As far as I am concerned going without a Blackberry would be like trying to quit smoking. Not that I know about the smoking bit – having never started. Am totally addicted to my Blackberry.

Note the following from the article:

Gibbs didn’t offer details, but the contours of the compromise seem to be: official, work-related e-mail messages will be subject to the Presidential Records Act and the possibility of eventual disclosure. But strictly personal communications–with family, for instance–will be exempt.

This makes sense. As we reported last week, federal law explicitly exempts from disclosure any “personal records” that do not relate to the president’s official function.

Those include electronic records that are “of a purely private or non-public character” and don’t relate to official duties; the law lists diaries, journals, notes, and presidential campaign materials as examples. Similarly, the Freedom of Information Act prevents files from being released if the disclosure would significantly jeopardize “personal privacy.”

This provides a great Teachable Moment for students. Students must learn to distinguish between personal/social online activities and professional/educational. Most school acceptable use policies provide that students should use the Internet in school for “educational activities only.” This limit should not be for class assignments only. Just like students were able to explore personal interests in the school library, high quality online activities that are outside of class assignments should be allowed. Does this extend to checking MySpace? In most schools this does not. Classwork, high quality research = educational. MySpace = personal/social.

One reason it is important for students to learn this distinction is that when they enter the work world, their use of their employer’s interactive technologies should be limited to professional, employment related communications and activities only. Employers are allowed to monitor their employees use of interactive technologies and many employees have been fired because they were engaging in personal online activities, including really inappropriate online activities, during work time.

Suggested class discussion and activities:

  • Have your students make a list of the kinds of activities that Prez O might engage in using his Blackberry, especially the kinds of communications. Put these into to lists: Presidential and Personal.
  • Then create a list of the kinds of online activities your students engage in, both in school and out. Put this into two lists: School and Personal.
  • Discuss issues of privacy. What level of privacy should Prez O expect for his Blackberry communications? Yeah sure, really private communications do not have to be disclosed under the Freedom of Information Act. But what are the risks? How much privacy can Prez O expect in any of his electronic communications? None! Any electronic communication that Prez O sends or receives is where? On someone else’s electronic device. Just like every one of your student’s electronic communications.
  • Have your students write their personal guidance for Prez O for how he should handle the situation where he will be using his Blackberry for both Presidential and Personal communications. Have your students write their guidance on how much privacy he should expect in any of these communications.

As soon as I get my head above water with an overload of work projects, I am going to create a new blog that will provide ongoing Teachable Moment suggestions. All best. Nancy


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