The PCLOB Inadvertently Opts For Total Transparency While The Surveillance Review Board Sets A Troubling Tone In Its Debut

from the moving-recklessly-at-the-speed-of-government dept

If the endgame is transparency, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board seems to have set the tone early, if inadvertently. Al Kamen at the Washington Post quickly runs down a story all too familiar to many, many others who have wondered (too late) what the difference between Cc and Bcc actually is.

[W]e were delighted to get an invitation to the board’s Oct. 4 public hearing at the Mayflower Hotel, where executive and judicial branch officials are to discuss changes to federal intelligence surveillance programs in order to adequately “protect privacy and civil liberties.”

Even better to see that the e-mailed invite displayed the e-mail addresses of the hundred or so recipients. Of course most addresses were those of media colleagues and, by definition, pretty useless.

But there were some we were happy to have, especially those for staff at the Director of National Intelligence, the National Security Council, the FBI, Justice Department, Treasury and the Pentagon. Sure saves time.
Exposing email addresses? All part of a day's work in the national security complex. That it was an outside board doing the exposing is a little disappointing, but on the bright side, many journalists now have a useful list of email addresses that will help them bypass flacks in the Communications offices.

As for the other, less independent, surveillance-related board? The first meeting with the members of the Surveillance Review Board was actually two meetings -- one for tech firm reps and one for privacy advocate groups like the People's Front of Judea ACLU and EPIC.

The meeting with the tech firm reps was held in the White House's Truman Room, and went down something like this, according to Spencer Ackerman:
Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple and Yahoo sent representatives to the inaugural hearing, chaired by Swire. Also in attendance were Alan Davidson of MIT; Atkinson; and Meinrath. There was also representatives of the Information Technology Industry Council, Rackspace, and the Software and Information Industry Association...

The meeting itself struck Meinrath as bizarre. Representatives from the technology firms were identified around the table not by their names, but by placards listing their employers. There was minimal technical discussion of surveillance mechanisms despite the presence of technology companies; Meinrath took the representatives to be lawyers, not technologists.

When it appeared like the meeting would discuss a surveillance issue in a sophisticated way, participants and commissioners suggested it be done in a classified meeting. Meinrath interpreted that as a maneuver to exclude his more-critical viewpoint.
So, essentially pointless. Many of the tech companies are currently engaged in legal battles in hopes of making reporting on government requests for data more transparent. Others, like Microsoft, have been more cooperative with the NSA's requests in the past, but seem a bit more hesitant to do so in the future.

Meinrath's assessment of the tech meeting is pretty damning.
Meinrath said he was surprised by the circumscribed discussion: "I didn't find anyone saying the bulk surveillance is horrendous and bad for our democracy." He declined to discuss specifics. "The companies are concerned that it impacts their bottom line. My concern is they're looking to preserve the function of the NSA," Meinrath said.

Asked if that was the perspective of the government or the companies, Meinrath replied: "I'm not sure you can separate the two."
Granted, this was the first set of meetings by the Surveillance Review Board, but based on what was observed here, it appears Meinrath's initial feeling that these administration moves will amount to nothing more than a "simulacrum of meaningful reform" is spot on.

This feeling isn't alleviated at all by the details of the second meeting.
One group included civil libertarian organizations such as the ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. It met in a conference room on K and 20th Streets. Morrell and Clarke did not attend.
That's right. The civil libertarians weren't even allowed into the White House, much less given a chance to speak to the entire board. This would seem to indicate that the Board (which operates at the behest of the administration and reports to the Director of National Intelligence) believes tech companies require full attention while safeguarding constitutional rights should be granted no more than half-measures. It would also appear that the government's main concern is winning over the tech companies in order to continue the bulk surveillance unimpeded. The concerns of the public were relegated to a separate, underattended conference room blocks away from the White House.

Finally, there's no escaping the fact that any efforts towards reforming the surveillance system will still be routed through James Clapper. Much like every corporate participant, the administration had no comment.
The White House deferred comment to the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which did not respond.
So, a pair of inauspicious moments for two groups ostensibly aimed at achieving the near-mythical "balance" between security and privacy. If anything's going to be achieved, the Surveillance Review Board will have to start viewing the rights of Americans as equally important as the opinions of tech companies.

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  • icon
    silverscarcat (profile), 17 Sep 2013 @ 6:22pm

    Oh please...

    We're not important. We're the public. The elitists in Washington know what's best for us after all.

    It's not like Women's Sufferage, Civil Rights or any of that stuff happened because the public was involved. Nope, it was the elitists in Washington that knew better and forced it to happen.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    out_of_the_blue, 17 Sep 2013 @ 8:56pm

    So, lawyers working out terms for open fascism.

    Yet again, until NSA people are in jail, don't waste even a moment hoping for a change -- let alone believing that mega-corporations are fighting for your privacy.

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

    • identicon
      Edward Teach, 18 Sep 2013 @ 6:23am

      Re: So, lawyers working out terms for open fascism.

      Avast! The rabid dog out_of_the_blue actually speaks some of the truth, though not, bet told, as a Gentelman of Fortune! 'Tis a rum day when such a pusillanimous wight strikes true. Mark my words, ye scurvy dogs, even a blind pig finds an acorn once in a while! 'Tis just just a day! Arrr!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2013 @ 9:49pm

    Government sets up another VM named "Privacy and security for all" while the other box is running the real one called "Snoopy goes to town".

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Sep 2013 @ 10:35pm

    All this says, is no one is serious about reigning in security gone insane. This is still about cover up and window dressing which is all that's come out of Washington since it all started.

    Pressure will have to be brought to bear or nothing will change. I do hope that the American people have something on their agenda they care about besides the latest in the series of Breaking Bad or whatever passes for entertainment these days.

    Maybe one of the best things that could happen would be the Amish proposal actually coming back for another run. Defunding this entire preemie Gestapo is what needs done. Since no one it seems in the administration is serious about making meaningful change it tells you where the pressure is to keep status quo is coming from.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2013 @ 7:03am


      Amash, not Amish. The Amish proposal would be that we abandon technology altogether, so that surveillance is impossible.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2013 @ 4:21am

    all that is going to happen is a discussion on how to carry on exactly as they have been for the last, oh, 40 years or so, without getting caught and if anyone does the whistleblowing, like Snowden, how best to charge that person so there will be the least amount of backlash and therefore public outcry!

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

  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 18 Sep 2013 @ 5:02am

    The system is set up already. It's just becoming clear they don't give a shit to the small folk on the streets. And as long as the Americans keep quite and docile nothing will change at all. I wonder if when they wake up it'll be too late. That is, if it isn't already too late.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2013 @ 7:58am

    Legal Challenges

    The FISA court revelation yesterday complained about a lack of legal challenges. I suspect that the technology companies sent technical people because their lawyers were too busy readying their companies legal challenges...right?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2013 @ 11:38am

    holy crickets

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Sep 2013 @ 11:55am

    Wow, they can't even be bothered to make their lip-service full-assed.

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

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Use markdown for basic formatting. HTML is no longer supported.
  Save me a cookie
Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer
Anonymous number for texting and calling from Hushed. $25 lifetime membership, use code TECHDIRT25
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads


Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.