A great idea wasting away

Saturday, April 10, 2010 at 10:24 am by

Here’s a great idea! Why don’t we have an oversight board of some kind that will oversee privacy issues and help protect our civil liberties? Really cool idea, right? Who wouldn’t want that?

Well, as a matter of fact, we do. It’s called the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Not a bad title, eh? Pretty good for the country, no? And it was just created recently in response to the protestations of civil libertarians, right? Wrong! This board was created in 2004.

Now, can you name any of the current, intrepid members of the board who are valiantly fighting for our privacy rights and civil liberties across the land? You won’t be able to, but don’t think too hard—that’s because there is no one on the board. As in zilch, zip, nada.

Amazing, isn’t it? A board was created six years ago to will help protect our civil rights, and it’s unoccupied. All the while the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the PATRIOT Act have been extended and abused.

Well, the Obama administration is being pressured to fill the five seats on the board by lawmakers and privacy advocates. This board exists “to ensure that executive branch counterterrorism policies protect Americans’ civil liberties.”

Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), who is a member of the House Homeland Security Committee, stated recently,

“It’s important, especially as we ramp up on domestic intelligence issues, that we have an independent watchdog” focused on privacy and civil liberties.

At the moment, the Obama administration is vetting nominees and has requested that congressional Republicans provide a list of candidates for the board. In accordance with majority rule, there will be three Obama administration and two Republican choices.

There is concern that the Obama administration is “sending a signal” through its inaction on the filling of the board seats. The thinking goes (courtesy American Civil Liberties Union’s Jay Stanley),

More likely, this White House, like any White House, has no appetite for activating an independent body not under its control, a potential thorn in its side that might step on their ‘message of the day’ and distract from its agenda.

The Obama administration’s record of vigorously defending the Bush administration’s policies on privacy invasion and civil liberty infringements does not bode well for the nominations to be fast-tracked.

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