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    Update on Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board

    The Washington Post reports that “lawmakers and privacy advocates are stepping up the pressure on the Obama administration to fill the five vacant seats on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.” Privacy Lives has joined in the call to nominate experts to the the board.

    A privacy and civil liberties oversight board was recommended by the 9/11 Commission, and the board was created in 2004 and placed within the White House. In 2008, Congress passed and President Bush signed the “Implementing the 9/11 Commission Recommendations Act of 2007,” which took the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board out of the White House and established it “as an independent agency within the executive branch.”

    Terms for the original board expired in January 2008, but President Bush delayed the nomination of new board members for many months; none were confirmed by the Senate. President Obama has not yet nominated any members. As a result, the strengthened board has never begun operations, “which is troubling, lawmakers say, given what intelligence officials say is the growing danger posed by homegrown terrorists,” the Washington Post reports.

    The White House is vetting someone for one of the three Democratic seats on the board, according to an administration official who said he could not be identified in discussing the vetting process. One of the barriers to finding a chairman is the statutory requirement that the official work full time, he said. “So that makes it a taller order,” he said. The four other positions are part time.

    “We’ve connected with the Republicans on the Hill, and they will have names to us in two weeks,” he said. “The wheels are turning, but we don’t have names of nominees to share at this point.” [...]

    President Obama is feeling the heat from his own party. Last month, a group of 22 key Democratic Congress members urged him to act. “It is imperative that the board be fully operational to evaluate and advise the executive branch on the privacy and civil liberties implications associated with such changes,” the group said in a letter, whose signatories included Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.) and Rush D. Holt (D-N.J.), chairman of the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel.

    In October, Maine Sen. Susan Collins (Republican) and California Rep. Jane Harman (Democrat) wrote to President Obama urging him (pdf) to make nominations for the board. The seats remain unfilled, but the ACLU’s Jay Stanley notes that “Obama ‘has found the time’ to fill a slew of positions on boards such as the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission and the President’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships,” the Post reports. (Disclosure: Stanley is a friend and colleague.)

    Granted, Stanley wrote in a blog last month, these positions might be easier to fill than the privacy board. “But it has been 14 months,” he wrote. “More likely, this White House, like any White House, has no appetite for activating an independent body not under its control, a potential thorn in its side that might step on their ‘message of the day’ and distract from its agenda.”

    For more information on the board, here’s a 2008 Congressional Research Service report (pdf) on the board’s history and powers.

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