Presidents and emails

“Birds do it, bees do it… even interns on their knees do it…” – as long as you’re talking about ‘falling in love’, that is.

When it comes to emailing, though, it seems that Presidents don’t do it.

There’s an interesting piece here on CNET today about the email proclivities of Presidents Clinton and Bush, and President-elect Obama (only a week to go, and counting). Clinton, we’re told, has never got the habit. He evidently prefers the human touch to the impersonal message. Apparently Obama is an email junkie, and is keen to keep at it – by means of a security-approved wireless palm-top if necessary. In his case, the concern appears to be over the risk of outsider attack – i.e. that someone might eavesdrop on his mail.

George W Bush, according to the article, used to be a keen emailer, but stopped after he took office, saying that he didn’t want his “private conversations looked at by those out to embarrass”.

In fact, as the article goes on to point out, there’s an FoI (Freedom of Information) exemption for personal emails which are nothing to do with the office-holder’s official role – though as Sarah Palin discovered last September, email accounts are not necessarily inviolate. What’s more, in her case the revelations led to allegations of the use of ‘personal’ email accounts to shelter behind that very exemption, which was an embarrassment it might have been well worth avoiding.

In George W’s case, given that exemption, the risk of FoI-based access to personal emails seems unlikely to have been the real basis for the decision. President Bush himself, in his final press conference yesterday, opened by acknowledging his own propensity for opening his mouth and putting his foot in it. Perhaps those around the president thought the safest approach would be to remove the option of his opening his mouth and inserting a keyboard…

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