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More Members of Congress Speak Up About Barack Obama’s 441 Days Without Civil Liberties Oversight

Barack Obama has now gone 441 days without appointing a legally-required Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

This is not a trivial matter. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board that is supposed to be in existence is the body of government tasked with training government surveillance officers in compliance with the United States Constitution. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is further tasked with the job of independently collecting information on the surveillance activities of the U.S. government. It has subpoena power to carry out this function. Twice a year, it is supposed to report on the constitutionality of U.S. government activities and release an unclassified version of the report to the general public.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is a powerful check upon executive power. It is required under law. And yet, the chief executive whose activities would be watched, President Barack Obama, has failed for 441 days to appoint any members to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The oversight board does not exist.

At the end of March, 22 members of the House of Representatives quietly sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking him to follow the law and finally, after all this time, appoint members to this oversight board. The full text of the letter, including the names of the signatories, follows below:

March 29, 2010

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

We are writing to encourage you to immediately nominate qualified individuals to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). Though both your Fiscal Year 2010 and 2011 budgets fund this Board, it is not operational. Given that the members of this Board must go through the time-consuming Senate confirmation process, it is imperative that you act expeditiously.

The PCLOB was originally authorized by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act in 2004 (1). In 2007, The Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act strengthened it by transforming it into an independent agency within the Executive Branch (2).

As envisioned by Congress, the Board would serve as an advisory body that assists the President and other senior Executive Branch officials in ensuring that concerns with respect to privacy and civil liberties are appropriately considered in the implementation of all laws, regulations, and Executive Branch policies related to preventing terrorism. Specifically, the Board is charged with responsibility for reviewing terrorism information sharing practices of Executive Branch departments and agencies to determine whether guidelines designed to protect privacy and civil liberties are followed. The Board has authority to complete its analysis, including the ability to issue subpoenas to compel production of evidence and testimony. Under the law, this independent and robust Board will remain accountable to the President and Congress through the issuance of semi-annual reports. Unclassified versions of the semi-annual reports will also be available to the American public.

For over two years, the vision for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has not been realized. As new privacy and civil liberties issues emerge, such as the use of new screening technologies and watchlisting procedures, it is imperative that the Board be fully operational to evaluate and advise the Executive Branch on the privacy and civil liberties implications associated with such changes.

We urge you to nominate members to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board as soon as possible.

Thank you,

Bennie G. Thompson
Member of Congress

John D. Dingell
Member of Congress

Edward J. Markey
Member of Congress

Michael E. Capuano
Member of Congress

Yvette D. Clarke
Member of Congress

Emanuel Cleaver
Member of Congress

Henry Cuellar
Member of Congress

Peter A. DeFazio
Member of Congress

Al Green
Member of Congress

Raul M. Grijalva
Member of Congress

Rush D. Holt
Member of Congress

Sheila Jackson-Lee
Member of Congress

Ben Ray Lujan
Member of Congress

Gwen Moore
Member of Congress

Eleanor Holmes Norton
Member of Congress

William L. Owens
Member of Congress

Bill Pascrell, Jr.
Member of Congress

Silvestre Reyes
Member of Congress

Laura Richardson
Member of Congress

Linda T. Sanchez
Member of Congress

Loretta Sanchez
Member of Congress

Carol Shea-Porter
Member of Congress

(1) Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act, S. 2845, Public Law 108-458 (2004).
(2) Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act, H.R. 1, Public Law 110-53 (2007).

Instead of responding to these members of Congress (and the other members of Congress who have written on the matter before), the White House continues an information blackout on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, acting as though the board need not exist, as though the law does not exist.

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