Akaka: Privacy, civil liberties oversight languishing

Posted on 11:41 am, Wednesday, April 13, 2011.

MEDIA RELEASE

A special Executive Branch board created to oversee the privacy and civil liberties of Americans in a time of consolidated government authority has been rendered useless by delays in nominating members, three top members of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee say.

In a letter to the President, Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., Ranking Member Susan Collins, R-Me., and Oversight of Government Management Daniel Akaka, D-Hawaii, expressed frustration that the five-member Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has been nonfunctional since 2008.

The Senators urged the Administration to nominate enough Board members to allow it to carry out its mission, as recommended by the 9/11 Commission and enacted as part of 2004 intelligence reform legislation.

Following is a copy of the letter:

April 8, 2011

Dear Mr. President:

We are writing to express our deep concern about the lack of a functioning Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board and to urge you to nominate a full slate of members for the Board as quickly as possible.

As you know, the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-458) authorized a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to ensure that efforts to combat terrorism do not encroach on vital freedoms.

The Board was a recommendation of the 9-11 Commission, which recognized that new efforts to prevent and deter terrorism might impinge on critical privacy and liberty concerns.

In the words of the Commission, “At this time of increased and consolidated government authority, there should be a board within the executive branch to oversee adherence to the guidelines we recommend and the commitment the government makes to defend our civil liberties.”

The Commission’s report went on to state, “Our history has shown us that insecurity threatens liberty. Yet, if our liberties are curtailed, we lose the values that we are struggling to defend.”

The original Board did begin this important oversight work. Congress subsequently concluded that its status, within the Executive Office of the President, did not allow it enough independence.

In 2007, as part of the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007 (P.L. 110-53), Congress reconstituted the Board as an independent entity outside the White House, with a full-time chairman and enhanced authorities, including subpoena authority through the Attorney General.

Unfortunately, this effort to create a more robust Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has instead resulted in no board at all. Although the Board was meant to begin its work in 2008, the Bush Administration and your Administration have been slow to select nominees for the new five-member Board.

Two nominees are now before the Senate Judiciary Committee, but even if they were immediately confirmed they would not have a quorum to conduct business. It is imperative that the Administration complete its nomination process so that Congress can then expeditiously fulfill its advice-and-consent role and allow the new Board to begin its critical mission.

The 9/11 Commission Chair Thomas Kean and Vice-Chair Lee Hamilton strongly reiterated the need for the new Board in testimony before the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last week, and we agree.

We have been strong supporters of the nation’s expanded homeland security and counterterrorism capabilities but recognize that they present the potential for increased governmental intrusions into individuals’ lives and therefore bear careful monitoring.

Noting the privacy and civil liberties concerns that the array of security-related policies and programs present, Kean and Hamilton stated that “a robust and visible Board can help reassure Americans that these programs are designed and executed with the preservation of our core values in mind.”

Kean also told the Committee that “nothing has frustrated me more” than the failure to create the Board the Commission envisioned. We share Chairman Kean’s frustration.

It is inexcusable that, more than three years after the new Board was meant to have begun its work, there is still no functional board at all.

We ask that you give this matter your prompt attention and stand ready to work with your Administration to help the Board begin its work as soon as possible.

Sincerely,

Joseph I. Lieberman
Chairman

Susan M. Collins
Ranking Member

Daniel Akaka
Chairman
Subcommittee on Oversight of Government
Management, the Federal Workforce,
And The District of Columbia