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White House to detail NSA reforms

Jan. 14, 2014 - 06:00AM   |  
Computer Hackers Gather For Annual CCC Congress
The National Security Agency is due for some reforms. (Patrick Lux / Getty Images)

On Friday, President Barack Obama is expected to detail plans for reforming the National Security Agency. The announcement comes nearly a month after a review panel recommended overhauling NSA’s data collection program and enforcing better defenses against insider attacks.

The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies, a panel the president created in August following classified leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, released a total of 46 recommendations in December. It appears at least some of the president’s reforms will align with the panel’s recommendations, including changes to the security clearance system.

Obama is expected to announce more stringent and frequent vetting of security clearances, The Hill reported, citing sources familiar with the administration’s plans.

Some recommendations in the 308-page report would require congressional approval, such as enacting legislation that would end the government’s storage of bulk telephony meta-data and create a system in which private providers or a private third party would maintain the data.

That proposal raised some concerns among lawmakers. “Private companies seem to be allowing customer information to be hacked on what seems to be a daily basis,” Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said at Senate hearing Tuesday. Grassley noted recent and high-profile security breaches at Target and Neiman Marcus.

A handful of the review group members testified at Tuesday’s hearing and defended their recommendations. Members stressed that keeping the data in government hands creates the potential for data to be misused.

“Even NSA can have its information stolen,” said Richard Clarke, a member of the review panel and CEO of a consulting firm. The phone companies already have the data, Clarke said. The panel is only suggesting the phone companies or a third party keep the data rather than the government.

In terms of NSA reforms, the president is expected to reject a major overhaul of the agency, according to The Hill. “Obama is expected not to adopt the panel’s suggestion that the NSA’s cyber defense group — the Information Assurance Directorate — be moved to the Pentagon. Nor will Obama order the reassignment of missions other than foreign intelligence collection away from the agency, a source familiar with the current state of the review said.”

The White House pre-emptively rejected one of the recommendations, to split the offices of director of NSA and head of US Cyber Command into separate positions.

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