- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 18, 2009

If all goes according to plan and schedule, Barack Obama will be inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States at noon Tuesday. History will certainly be made with the swearing in of one of the youngest chief executives in U.S. history and the first black to hold the position. I’ve read about the meal he’ll have after the ceremony, and the menu sounds great.

I just hope he doesn’t get indigestion afterward: There’s enough tech stuff brewing to promote a bout of heartburn.

Some tech worries for the new commander in chief - and the rest of us: At the top of my list are Micro SD cards, with the “SD” standing for Secure Digital, a card format that’s rather popular for cell phones and some cameras.

There’s a tremendous boon in being able to put as much as 16 gigabytes on a card that’s smaller than a postage stamp and shorter than a paper clip’s length. But there’s also a tremendous danger: Such devices, which truly are tiny, can be easily concealed, connected (via an equally small card reader) to a computer’s USB port, and used to transport sensitive data out of a building.

Of course, installations with high-security needs already ban such devices, as does most of the Department of Defense, which suffered a computer virus attack imported via a larger “memory stick” last year. But in some offices there may be little or nothing to stop a disgruntled employee from spiriting out a sneak peek at next year’s budget or this year’s white paper and handing it over to a reporter, friendly or hostile. Or give it to someone else. Data security will likely be a top priority for the new administration, and, in my view, it should be.

Next up is the potential for online social media to enhance - and obstruct - the next administration’s agenda.

There’s nothing like Facebook or Twitter to make mass communication to a defined niche as nearly instant as possible. Old-fashioned telephone trees or call-down lists can’t cut it, and e-mail can get lost in a sea of spam. But if I get a Facebook status message from you, that can be important and informative. A short clip on YouTube can have tremendous reach, as the “Obama Girl” video ably demonstrated.

Given that Mr. Obama has put his weekly addresses on YouTube and that Facebook’s millions played a not-insubstantial role in the election, it would appear that he and his team are aware of what social media can do. The question is how this will be harnessed for good, and how it might be abused by less friendly forces.

Here, too, information security will play a role. Again, I’m sure this is being thought about, but it’s an area of potential concern: Messing with a presidential video could create problems.

A third area where attention should be paid, in my view, is the question of broadband access. South Korea and Japan are doing better jobs of providing high-speed broadband to their citizens than the U.S. is, as a whole, and this needs to change. If you don’t believe me, let’s talk after Tuesday’s expected mass gridlock. Having a solid, high-speed and high-capacity broadband infrastructure would let more of us work from home, at least part time, and that could help when roads are clogged or gas prices soar.

It appears Mr. Obama is in sync with this. On Jan. 10, in an Internet address, he said part of the new economic stimulus would go to “build the new infrastructure we need to succeed in this new century, investing in science and technology, and laying down miles of new broadband lines so that businesses across our nation can compete with their counterparts around the world.”

Along with access to the global network, we need to figure out access to information: Google’s plan to digitize most of the nation’s out-of-print books, and many of its more current ones, is a great idea. But should this move from the commercial to the noncommercial realm? Fair handling of copyright questions could resolve this.

It’ll be a full tech agenda, and I’ve barely scratched the surface. We can hope, however, that the issues will be addressed aggressively and with both consumers and business people in mind.

E-mail mkellner@washingtontimes.com.

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