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The Switchboard: Obama considering naming a civilian to run the NSA

NSA chief Alexander is due to step down from the post. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Published every weekday morning, The Switchboard highlights five tech policy stories you need to read.

White House considers civilian for NSA chief. "The White House is considering whether to name a civilian to lead the National Security Agency for the first time ever," the Hill reports. "The current head of the NSA, Keith Alexander, a four-star Army general, plans to step down in the spring. The move could help lead to more transparency and oversight in the wake of disclosures by Edward Snowden about the scope of the NSA's controversial surveillance programs."

Senator wants end to demand letters from “bottom feeder” patent trolls. On Thursday, "a Senate committee convened to talk about one of the nastier sides of the patent wars: patent licensing companies that send out thousands of letters asking for payouts from small businesses, often for everyday business behavior like using scanners," according to Ars Technica. "Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) convened a meeting of the Senate Commerce Committee, bringing four key personalities in patent reform to Capitol Hill. Her goal was to find out if something could be done to stop the patent threat letters."

Amazon to deliver on Sundays using Postal Service fleet. "Amazon announced Monday that it will begin Sunday deliveries using the government agency’s fleet of foot soldiers, office workers and truck drivers to bring packages to homes seven days a week," our own Cecelia Kang reports. "To accommodate the online retailing giant, the Postal Service said it will for the first time deliver packages at regular rates on Sundays. Previously, a shipper had to use its pricey Express Mail service and pay an extra fee for Sunday delivery."

Facial recognition, once a battlefield tool, lands in San Diego County. The Tactical Identification System is a "new mobile facial recognition technology" that is "now in the hands of San Diego-area law enforcement," according to the Center for Investigative Reporting. "In an instant, the system matches images taken in the field with databases of about 348,000 San Diego County arrestees. The little-known program could become the largest expansion of facial recognition technology by U.S. law enforcement."

Silk Road employee who Dread Pirate Roberts tried to kill comes forward. Ross Ulbricht, the man the federal government says started the infamous online drug market Silk Road, has also been accused of trying to have one of his own employees killed. "Of course, the 'hit man' he hired was actually an undercover agent, leading to a bizarre operation in which the Silk Road employee's death was faked, complete with bloody photos," Techdirt writes. The man Ulbricht allegedly tried to kill has been revealed. He is "a 47-year-old grandfather whose day job is working 'at a non-profit dedicated to helping people with learning disabilities.'" Ulbricht has denied the charges.



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Timothy B. Lee · November 10, 2013

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