White House Opposes Surveillance... Of Its Own Surveillance Policy

from the nobody's-watching dept

Since it was formed in 2004, on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has been blasted by civil libertarians as a tool of the administration, more interested in whitewashing War on Terror–related privacy violations than serving as a genuine check on government intrusion. One of the board's five members even resigned in protest, citing among other things "the vast array of alphabet soup agencies and bureaucracies in the national security apparatus" that sought "to control and modify the Board's public utterances." So last year, Congress sought to give the board greater autonomy by moving it out from under the aegis of the White House and reconstituting itself as an independent boad within the executive branch. The response of the White House, Wired reports, has been to drag its feet in appointing a new board -- meaning there is no one on the board as of January 30th -- prompting bipartisan criticism from top members of the Senate's Homeland Security Committee.

The board's second annual report (pdf), released late last month, does not exactly inspire confidence in its assiduousness as a privacy watchdog -- even when staffed. After touting its excellent working relationship with the White House, it moves to a "nothing to see here" review of the post-9/11 use of the material witness statute (MWS) as a detention tool. Aside from one "terrible mistake," the report asserts the board "was not made aware of specific problems with the use of the MWS in the anti-terrorism context" and cites a claim by the Justice Department that "on only nine occasions since the attacks of September 11, 2001 has the MWS been used in terrorist-related investigations." That is hard to square with the findings of a joint report by Human Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union, which found some 70 instances of 9/11-related detention, though the discrepancy may be explained by the frequent use of immigration violations as a pretext for detentions that were actually related to terror investigations. The board's analysis of the Protect America Act, passed last August, similarly reads like a compilation of White House talking points.

This should not be all that surprising given the composition of the old board, which consisted of such Republican stalwarts as President Bush's former solicitor general, Ted Olson. With debate over reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act raging in the Senate, the White House appears less than eager to have a less-friendly set of eyes reviewing its surveillance policies.

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  • identicon
    CATS, 4 Feb 2008 @ 4:58pm

    Zero Wing

    How are you gentlemen!!
    All your base are belong to us
    You are on the way to destruction
    You have no chance to survive, make your time
    Ha Ha Ha Ha

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Thom, 4 Feb 2008 @ 6:10pm

    I still don't see

    Why Bush, Cheney, and friends aren't out of office and up on charges of treason...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      manny, 4 Feb 2008 @ 6:20pm

      Re: I still don't see

      All is fun and games until someone blows a bomb vest in the mall of the americas then it will be their fault for not knowing If I have to be wrong either way I choose to be wrong against the savages

      treason would be correct if they were citizens of iran and selling iran's state secrets

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 Feb 2008 @ 6:20pm

    Why do you hate America?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Overcast, 4 Feb 2008 @ 8:59pm

    It's ok, once they are watching all of us, they'll get paranoid and then put cameras on themselves to be sure no one is 'coming for them'.

    It seems one thing always holds true when it comes to 'overzealous' government. The more control they get, the more paranoid the leaders become.

    I'm curious who they are really looking to protect. In all other ways, I only see the vast majority of Washington out to protect itself.

    They could try to secure the borders more, or does that not lend to our 'security' any?

    I would think - in the case of a suicide bomber, or a "Pearl Harbor Type of Event" that cameras really don't help a whole lot by that point in time. Although - I suspect, it would help significantly in controlling the population in general.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Thom, 5 Feb 2008 @ 5:08am


    No Manny, treason would be correct for this administration (and yes, probably others at times but this one especially). Selling the country down the river, destroying it and the rights of Americans bit by bit in the process, is an act of treason whether you're selling it to foreign governments or selling it to big business.

    As far as blowing a vest in the mall - cowards like you who'd rather throw hundreds of billions of dollars at terrorism on the off chance that a rare incident like that might occur are a huge part of what's wrong with this country.

    How many Americans died in traffic accidents last year alone? How many Americans died of heart disease? How many died of cancer? How many millions of Americans have been hurt by these losses? How many hundreds of billions have been lost to these? Hint: Many times more than have have been lost to terrorists acts. Many times more than our soldiers have lost fighting terrorism. Many times more than our government has doled out in support of this "war" and in the destruction of our rights. Now, how much money does our government, our president, his administration direct toward curing these ills that cost far more money and lives on a yearly basis than all costs EVER from terrorism? HINT: A tiny fraction of our budget for terrorism.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      manny, 6 Feb 2008 @ 6:14am

      Re: Re:manny

      How many of you have been overseas especially to the middle east... you aint aint got no clue about rights... get a passport go to syria (been there done that)

      if you believe the evening news how many of you believe that famous picture of that little girl with her clothes burned off in that napalm attack was done by american pilots
      I watch the news with the following mindset "what if that was true"

      try reading General Giap's book

      I dont drink anyones koolAid and though I have significent dissagreements with the "politically correct" way we conduct Military operations im not going to side with people that murder their own daughters for honor...

      One point of agreement 70 year old laides don't need to be screened for explosives

      as for rights
      a presidential candidate stated recently she will GARNISH the wages of those that do not participate in universal health care

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Killer_Tofu (profile), 5 Feb 2008 @ 5:21am


    I agree with both Overcast and Thom here.
    And dorpass too.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Feb 2008 @ 5:57am

    Thom, so you want to ban smoking? Ban people being fat, that would take care of a lot of wasted healthcare dollars.

    Folks that think that everything is GWB's fault when there is a democrat in office soon and things just don't change. Hell, Ron Paul could be in office (well, no, he couldn't, but say he was) and things wouldn't change.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Etch, 5 Feb 2008 @ 3:56pm


      Glad to see there are more people who just throw their hands in the air and say: "Why even try? Nothing is ever going to change, might as well accept our fate and move on"

      Yeah, that's the way to get things done.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      manny, 6 Feb 2008 @ 8:04am

      speaking of bans

      by the way the countries that have banned firearms have had increases in gun crimes

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    James, 5 Feb 2008 @ 7:26am

    I'll be so glad...

    ...when we can rid of these of these rotten crooks I so dislike, and we can get some new crooks that I like.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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