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.

Filed Under: privacy, privacy board, surveillance, white house


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  1. identicon
    Thom, 5 Feb 2008 @ 5:08am

    Re:manny

    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.

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