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After 414 Days In Office Obama Still Has No Civil Liberties Board

Federal law requires the President of the United States to appoint a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. This board is to be placed within the White House but given independent status. Fusion centers are proliferating across the country and taking on the power to construct disseminate government profiles of innocent Americans; administrators and officers at these fusion centers are required by law to take civil liberties training developed by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is tasked under federal law with the study of how surveillance and other intelligence activities protect (or do not protect) the civil liberties guaranteed to Americans by the United States Constitution, and is required by federal law to report to Congress with its findings.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board does not exist.

414 days after his inauguration as President of the United States, Barack Obama has failed to appoint the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that the law requires. Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi sent Barack Obama a letter earlier this year asking him when he plans to appoint the Board. Thompson has received no reply. After writing President Obama a letter about the matter and getting no answer, Representative Jane Harman took to the floor of the House on February 25 to note his lapse:

Let me also mention that under the Intelligence Reform Act of 2004, we required that the White House establish a privacy and civil liberties commission to oversee the development and implementation of laws with respect to terrorism. That commission was never fully established in the last administration, and this administration has yet to name a chairman and a vice chairman.

I urge the President again to fully implement the provisions of the 2004 Intelligence Reform Act. Standing up
that commission would send a message that we can protect our security, but we can also protect our liberty. This is not a zero-sum game.

In April of 2009, Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy and Ranking Republican Arlen Specter wrote Barack Obama a reminder that under the law he must appoint a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board:

Dear Mr. President:

We commend you for your commitment to restoring accountability and transparency to our national government. We write to bring to your attention an urgent need to reconstitute the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (“Board”) – a critical government component established by Congress to ensure that privacy and civil liberties concerns are appropriately considered in developing and implementing the Nation’s counterterrorism policies. At the recommendation of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission), Congress created the Board as an agency within the Executive Office of the
President in 2004. During the 11oth Congress, we worked hard to reform and reconstitute the Board, to give it more independence.

Having a fully functional Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is vital to protecting the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans and to ushering in a new era of responsibility in our government. We urge you to nominate qualified individuals to fill the vacancies on the Board at the earliest opportunity.

We look forward to working with you. Again, thank you for your commitment to protecting the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans.

Respectfully,

Patrick Leahy, Chairman
Arlen Specter, Ranking Member

After waiting more than a year for Barack Obama to follow federal law and appoint the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, Senator Patrick Leahy has at least rhetorically run out of patience, publicly releasing another letter he’d sent to President Obama:

Dear Mr. President:

In April, Senator Specter and I wrote to urge you to promptly reconstitute the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (“Board”). I write again to encourage you to nominate qualified individuals to the Board at the earliest opportunity.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is an integral component of our counterterrorism policies established by Congress to ensure that privacy and civil liberties concerns are appropriately considered in developing and implementing these measures. At the recommendation of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States (9/11 Commission), Congress created the Board as an agency within the Executive Office of the President in 2004. During the 110th Congress, I worked with many others in the Senate to reform and reconstitute the Board, to give it more independence.

Having a fully functional Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is a key step in protecting the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans. Given the many pressing privacy and civil liberties issues facing our Nation, including timely issues related to counterterrorism and cybersecurity policies, this vital Board has remained vacant for far too long.

I look forward to working with you on this important issue.

Respectfully,

Patrick Leahy, Chairman

Thanks and commendations for Barack Obama’s supposed “commitment to restoring accountability and transparency to our national government” and “commitment to protecting the privacy and civil liberties of all Americans” are conspicuously lacking in the second letter.

Members of Congress are engaging in the politest of diplomatic requests toward the President: please, sir, respectfully speaking, would you, um, follow the law? The President, in response, is blithely ignoring their entreaties. Considering his active disrespect for Americans’ civil liberties over the past year, we can expect Barack Obama will continue to neglect his duty to appoint an oversight board until either the Congress or the American people get over their reticence and embarrass him into action.

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