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June 25, 2013

Intelligence, privacy and liberties

In the wake of the recent media disclosure of surveillance programs that have broad implications for the privacy rights of American citizens, there is a renewed interest in oversight of the intelligence community in general and the National Security Agency in particular. This has revived interest in the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board — a useful tool in our federal government created to openly debate these very issues.

The PCLOB’s mission is to ensure that concerns with respect to privacy and civil liberties are appropriately considered in the implementation of all laws, regulations and executive branch policies related to preventing terrorism. The PCLOB is responsible for, among other things, reviewing terrorism information sharing practices of executive branch departments and agencies to determine whether guidelines designed to protect privacy and civil liberties are followed.

As the lead author of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act, I realize the necessity of the PCLOB’s independence. This bill, which has been law since 2007, authorizes the PCLOB as an independent agency within the executive branch. Prior to my legislation, the PCLOB was in the Office of the President and lacked independence to effectively fulfill its mission.

Since 2008, the PCLOB has had the necessary legal authority to execute its critical mission; however, delays in the nomination and confirmation processes hamstrung efforts to get the board up and running.

The approval of David Medine as PCLOB chair last month clears the way, for the first time in five years, for the board to operate as envisioned by Congress and directed by law. The fact that a national debate about privacy and counterterrorism efforts is under way at the very moment that the PCLOB is finally poised to begin operations raises the stakes for the chairman and the board. Early indications are that the PCLOB is hitting the ground running: They are meeting this week to discuss PRISM-related activities and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, two privacy matters at the forefront of Americans’ minds.

Certainly, the establishment of a fully functioning PCLOB is late — but not too late — to provide much needed oversight of the government’s surveillance programs. It has broad authority, including the ability to issue subpoenas to compel production of evidence and testimony, to provide privacy analysis and oversight. It deserves the support of Congress and the American people as it tackles a full agenda of issues — which include not only the privacy of our emails and phone records but also how we ensure privacy when we screen passengers at airports and when we collect information to prevent cyberattacks.

By:  Congressman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS)
Source: Politico