Hey, We Finally Have A Privacy And Civil Liberties Oversight Board... After Being Left Dormant For Almost Five Years

from the about-time dept

With all the efforts to pass cybersecurity legislation, along with all the fears of government violating our privacy (4th amendment? Whazzat?), you might think it would be somewhat useful to have an agency in charge of watching the government -- one which actually has some real power. Well, it exists. Sort of. In 2006, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) was created, in part as a counterweight to concerns over the Patriot Act. The PCLOB was staffed, but after the White House tried to interfere and stifle some of its work, one member very publicly quit in 2007. Congress responded by actually passing a useful law, which gave the PCLOB more independence and more power (including subpoena power). After it passed, there was a transition period of six months. At the end of that, the existing board (which was a part of the White House) would cease to exist, and a new independent agency was supposed to take its place. Instead, the existing board ceased to exist on January 30, 2008... and that was it. Since then, there has been no board. At times, both President Bush and President Obama have sent some nominations to the Senate, but nothing more had happened. Even back in 2010 people were complaining what a travesty it was that the board remained empty for two years.

Fast forward another two years and change... and the thing still wasn't staffed. The whole thing was such a joke that in a recent discussion with a Congressional Rep (known for being a supporter of civil liberties), when the PCLOB (and its lack of members) was brought up, the Congressional Rep admitted that he'd never even heard of the thing. For all the urgency that was talked about in passing cybersecurity legislation, everyone just sat around twiddling their thumbs while this independent organization tasked with making sure the government didn't abuse our civil liberties sat completely empty.

Until now. Yes, we finally have a staffed PCLOB. The Senate has approved all five nominees: David Medine, James Dempsey, Elisebeth Cook, Rachel Brand and Patricia Wald. It's amazing that it's taken nearly five years to put this board in place (and that there wasn't more outrage over its absence). The real question now is how will the PCLOB wield its power. Hopefully it does some good and actually holds the government to account when it violates the civil liberties of the public.
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Filed Under: board, civil liberties, david medine, elisabeth cook, jim dempsey, oversight, patricia wald, privacy, rachel brand


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  1. icon
    A Guy (profile), 4 Aug 2012 @ 3:04am

    Well, there's some of the change I intended to vote for at least. It's too bad this didn't happen right after the last election.

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