Lib­er­ties board lies dor­mant years after 9/11 panel

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JIM MCELHATTON

An in­de­pen­dent over­sight board rec­om­mended by the 9/11 Com­mis­sion to en­sure that na­tional se­cu­rity poli­cies do not in­fringe on Amer­i­cans’ civil lib­er­ties has re­mained dor­mant for years, rais­ing con­cerns among watch­dogs that a cru­cial Con­sti­tu­tion safe­guard does not ex­ist.

Well past the half­way point of his term, Pres­i­dent Obama has ap­pointed only two of the five mem­bers for the Pri­vacy and Civil Lib­er­ties Over­sight Board, which also lan­guished un­der Pres­i­dent Bush.

“There are no ex­cuses for not get­ting this board up and run­ning,” said Sharon Brad­ford Franklin, se­nior coun­sel at the Con­sti­tu­tion Project, one of more than a dozen groups that re­cently pe­ti­tioned the ad­min­is­tra­tion to get the board op­er­a­tional.

An­a­lysts say a host of na­tional se­cu­rity is­sues, such as air­port screen­ing, cy­ber­se­cu­rity poli­cies and an up­com­ing Supreme Court case on whether law en­force­ment can at­tach a satel­lite track­ing de­vice without a war­rant, would have ben­e­fited from in­de­pen­dent over­sight.

“The launch of an in­de­pen­dent over­sight board is long over­due,” Ms. Franklin said.

The White House has no ex­pla­na­tion for why the board va­can­cies have proved so hard to fill, and de­clined an op­por­tu­nity to com­ment for this ar­ti­cle.

Ac­cord­ing to the board’s 2007 re­port to Congress, one of its tasks was to re­view the FBI’s use of na­tional se­cu­rity let­ters, which al­low au­thor­i­ties to get fi­nan­cial, credit and other in­for­ma­tion on U.S. cit­i­zens without a court or­der.

“If the board is no longer meet­ing, one would as­sume it is no longer per­form­ing this over­sight role, which is con­cern­ing given the re­cent ex­ten­sion of the Pa­triot Act,” Jen­nifer Lynch, staff at­tor­ney for the Elec­tronic Free­dom Foun­da­tion, said in an email.

Civil lib­er­ties groups have pushed for years to get the board fully op­er­a­tional after Congress strength­ened it in 2007 and gave it sub­poena pow­ers.

But since then, nei­ther Mr. Bush nor Mr. Obama nom­i­nated enough mem­bers. Mr. Obama nom­i­nated two mem­bers last year, but three va­can­cies re­main.

Mr. Obama’s nom­i­nees so far are James Dempsey, vice pres­i­dent of pub­lic pol­icy at the Cen- ter for Democ­racy and Tech­nol­ogy, and El­iz­a­beth Collins Cook, a lawyer in pri­vate prac­tice who worked in the Jus­tice Depart­ment in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Two weeks ago, more than a dozen or­ga­ni­za­tions wrote to Mr. Obama ex­press­ing con­cerns about the lack of nom­i­na­tions to the board.

“Sadly, although Congress took the important step of cre­at­ing an in­de­pen­dent body tasked with both ad­vis­ing the ex­ec­u­tive branch on pol­icy and over­see­ing its im­ple­men­ta­tion, the [pri­vacy board] has re­mained an un­filled prom­ise,” the groups wrote in a let­ter to the White House. Among the groups that signed the let­ter were the Con­sti­tu­tion Project and Elec­tronic Fron­tier Foun­da­tion.

The over­sight board was formed in 2004. It came un­der crit­i­cism for be­ing too close to the Bush White House, so Con- gress made it an in­de­pen­dent panel in 2007.

How­ever, the lack of ac­tiv­ity by the board has been a con­cern for years.

“Among our ma­jor dis­ap­point­ments has been the ad­min­is­tra­tion has not im­pan­eled the Pri­vacy and Civil Lib­er­ties Over­sight Board,” for­mer Rep. Lee Hamil­ton, vice chair­man of the 9/11 Com­mis­sion, tes­ti­fied to a Se­nate com­mit­tee in March.

“I can’t fig­ure it out,” Mr.

“Among our ma­jor dis­ap­point­ments has been the ad­min­is­tra­tion has not im­pan­eled the Pri­vacy and Civil Lib­er­ties Over­sight Board,” for­mer Rep. Lee Hamil­ton, vice chair­man of the 9/11 Com­mis­sion, tes­ti­fied to a Se­nate com­mit­tee in March. “I can’t fig­ure it out,” Mr. Hamil­ton added. “I just can­not fig­ure it out. I don’t know what Pres­i­dent Bush and Pres­i­dent Obama think. They just have not put an ef­fec­tive board in place and I can’t un­der­stand why.”

Hamil­ton added. “I just can­not fig­ure it out. I don’t know what Pres­i­dent Bush and Pres­i­dent Obama think. They just have not put an ef­fec­tive board in place and I can’t un­der­stand why.”

The White House de­clined to com­ment on the let­ter from civil lib­er­ties groups about the slow pace of nam­ing panel mem­bers in re­sponse to an in­quiry by The Wash­ing­ton Times.

Mean­while, a sep­a­rate in­ter­nal pri­vacy and civil lib­er­ties board within the Jus­tice Depart­ment has qui­etly fiz­zled. The board was launched in 2006, but Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials told The Times that the panel hasn’t met since the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and that the cur­rent Jus­tice Depart­ment had de­cided not to re­new it.

The spokes­woman, Gina Tala­m­ona, said the board be­came in­ac­tive at the end of the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and of­fi­cials de­cided not to start it up again un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“The board hasn’t ex­isted since the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion. It was cre­ated dur­ing the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion and it be­came in­ac­tive dur­ing the pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tion,” she said.

Ms. Tala­m­ona said the work that the board had con­ducted “dur­ing a brief pe­riod of time” is be­ing con­ducted by ex­ist­ing of­fices and di­vi­sions within the Jus­tice Depart­ment, in­clud­ing its chief pri­vacy of­fi­cer.

An­other Jus­tice Depart­ment spokes­woman, Xo­chitl Hi­no­josa, said de­spite the ab­sence of an in­ter­nal over­sight board, the depart­ment had stepped up en­force­ment of civil rights laws.

Through the Free­dom of In­for­ma­tion Act, The Times sought all meet­ing min­utes and agen­das for the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s pri­vacy board over a pe­riod of years. But after tak­ing more than a year to process the re­quest, the depart­ment pro­duced few doc­u­ments, dis­clos­ing one agenda and sev­eral pages de­scrib­ing the board’s goals and struc­ture.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.