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    Update on Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board

    The Washington Times has an update on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight 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. But, there was controversy in May 2007 when Democrat Lanny J. Davis resigned (pdf) from the board in protest of the Bush administration making substantial revisions and deletions to the board’s draft report. In its more than 200 revisions (1.5 MB pdf) to the report, the Bush White House deleted a passage on anti-terrorism programs where intelligence officials said the programs had “potentially problematic” intrusions on civil liberties. Later that year, 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.”

    The new law said the five-member board’s purpose is to: “(1) analyze and review actions the executive branch takes to protect the Nation from terrorism, ensuring that the need for such actions is balanced with the need to protect privacy and civil liberties; and (2) ensure that liberty concerns are appropriately considered in the development and implementation of laws, regulations, and policies related to efforts to protect the Nation against terrorism.”

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

    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. In November, Privacy Lives joined 28 groups (including the Center for Democracy & Technology, Center for National Security Studies, and Special Libraries Association) in sending a letter (pdf) to the White House urging that the administration make the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board selection process “a priority and ensure that nominations to the Board are made to the Senate before the end of the first session of the 111th Congress, so that a Board can be seated early next year.” The board “was designed to play a vital independent role in oversight of privacy and civil liberties,” the groups said.

    Now, the Washington Times reports, Harman and Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson (Democrat), chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, have written to President Obama about the board. “We write to urge you to appoint individuals to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board immediately. Your FY2010 budget appropriates funds for this board, but it remains unfulfilled,” they said.

    “Given the recent events of December 25, 2009, and the prospective policy changes that will be made subsequent to this incident, including potential expansion of watch lists and widespread use of body-scanning technology, we believe that the Board will give an anxious public confidence that appropriate rights are respected,” said Harman and Thompson.

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