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Obama calling for better digital security

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is calling digital security a top priority, whether it's guarding the computer systems that keep the lights on in the city and direct airliners to the right runway or those protecting customers who pay their bills online.

To oversee an enhanced security system for the nation's computer networks, Obama is creating a "cyber czar" as part of a long-awaited plan stemming from a review he ordered shortly after taking office.

On Friday, Obama is expected to lay out broad goals for dealing with cyber threats while depicting the U.S. as a digital nation that needs to provide the education required to keep pace with technology and attract and retain a cyber-savvy work force. He also is expected to call for a new education campaign to raise public awareness of the challenges and threats related to cyber security.

The review, however, will not dictate how the government or private industry should tighten digital defenses. Critics say the cyber czar will not have sufficient budgetary and policy-making authority over securing computer systems and spending.

Officials familiar with the discussions say the cyber czar would be a special assistant to the president and would be supported by a new cyber directorate within the National Security Council. The cyber czar would also work with the National Economic Council, said the officials, who described the plan on condition of anonymity because it has not been publicly released.

The special assistant title is not as high in the White House hierarchy as some officials sought. It would not give the czar direct, unfettered access to the president. Instead, the official would report to senior NSC officials -- a situation many say will make it difficult to make major changes within the calcified federal bureaucracy.

Government and military officials have acknowledged that U.S. computer networks are constantly assailed by attacks and scans, ranging from nuisance hacking to more nefarious probes and attacks. Some suggest that the actions at times are a form of cyber espionage from other nations, such as China.

Obama is not expected to announce who will get the job during Friday's unveiling of the review, according to an administration official who spoke on condition of anonymity because the selection process is ongoing. Other officials close to the issue say a handful of experts -- both in and out of government -- are under consideration.

Associated Press writer Ted Bridis contributed to this report.

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