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Military, government officials could get secure Android phones

CNN reports that U.S. civilian and military officials are testing the use of secure Android smartphones that could be capable of transmitting confidential documents.

Google's Android operating system may soon receive the U.S. government's seal of security approval, according to a report from CNN.

Citing a source close to the project, CNN says that developers in a government program are working on smartphones that run a customized version of the OS with security improvements. Though the first batch of test devices is authorized only for storing confidential documents, phones and tablets capable of transmitting such documents over wireless networks could arrive in the next few months.

Michael McCarthy, a director for the Army's Brigade Modernization Command, told CNN that the Army has been testing touch-screen smartphones at U.S. bases over the last two years (a fact that CBS News also reported in December 2010). Though the Army has issued 40 of the modified smartphones so far, it will ship an additional 50 handsets and 75 tablets to service members by next month.

In an e-mail to CNET, Google spokesman Randall Sarafa declined to comment.

Instead of employing devices with a unique hardware complement, CNN reports that the program uses commercially available phones while making security modifications to Android's kernel. In addition to showing the data that each application on the phone will utilize, the enhanced devices also will let the user control the specific data that can be sent over the network.

Soldiers on deployments will be the first group to receive the devices, with the program later extending to federal agencies and government contractors.

If the program proceeds successfully, a government adoption of Android technology would pose a threat to Research In Motion, which has long supplied its BlackBerry devices to federal officials, including President Obama.

Updated February 6 at 2:55 p.m. PT: Added response from Google.