How About a White House Watchdog to Protect Privacy of Americans? It Already Exists, but Does Nothing

Thursday, June 13, 2013
David Medine

While pundits and politicians debate the merits of the federal government’s spying operations, the question has surfaced: Should there be a special body in Washington charged with protecting Americans’ civil liberties?


No, and yes.


No, because one already exists. Yes, because the one that does exist doesn’t do anything.


The do-nothing body is known as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), which has been around for almost 10 years.


Created in 2004 at the suggestion of the 9/11 Commission, the PCLOB didn’t hold its first meeting until 2006, and its first report was so heavily edited by officials in the George W. Bush administration that it resulted in one board member, Democrat Lanny Davis, quitting.


The controversy prompted Congress to transform the PCLOB into an independent agency. But that didn’t help much at all. Partisan squabbling between Senate Democrats and Bush prevented new board members from being confirmed.


Then, Barack Obama became president—and waited three years to nominate anyone to the PCLOB.


More partisanship, this time between Senate Republicans and Obama, held up the president’s choice for chairman, David Medine, who wasn’t confirmed until last month.


The board lacks staffing and full-time members (a product of Medine’s delay as chairman), and doesn’t even have a website yet.


“It’s too soon to figure out or to know how that body is going to work and when it will be effective,” Michelle Richardson, a legislative counsel for the ACLU, told The Washington Post.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Never Heard of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board? You Should. (by Rachel Weiner, Washington Post)

Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Meets after Five-Year Absence (by Mark M. Jaycox, Electronic Frontier Foundation)

Senate Confirms Medine to Privacy, Civil Liberties Oversight Board (by Ramsey Cox, The Hill)

Senate Finally Confirms Head of Privacy and Civil Liberties Board after a Year and a Half (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Obama Finally Starts to Activate Privacy Oversight Board (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

White House Privacy Oversight Board Disappears (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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