It’s now been 535 days since Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States. Since a time before Obama’s inauguration, federal law has required President Obama to appoint a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. This board is charged with the responsibility of tracking the compliance of the executive branch of government with the provisions of the Constitution. The board is granted the ability to subpoena members of the government to testify and supply documentation, and it is granted access to classified information in order to carry out its work. Finally, the board is tasked with making regular reports to the U.S. Congress and the American public on the constitutionality of activities by a presidential administration.
This board and these powers do not fill a hypothetical need. Just yesterday, the National Security Agency acknowledged the existence of a program called Perfect Citizen in which the United States Military is putting surveillance devices in computer networks across the domestic USA to snoop on Internet traffic. Of course, the National Security Agency denies that the Perfect Citizen program is planning to spy on Americans using these devices — which is odd, considering that they are being deployed domestically — and proclaims that its efforts are purely for purposes of “research and development.” The military-industrial corporation assigned the $100 million Perfect Citizen contract, Raytheon, tells the media that “We have no info on this” — which again is odd, considering that the Wall Street Journal obtained a Raytheon e-mail in which the corporation declares that “Perfect Citizen is Big Brother.”
What does the operation called Perfect Citizen have to do with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board? A lot. First of all, the NSA didn’t even acknowledge the existence of Perfect Citizen until Wall Street Journal investigators uncovered details about the program. If the Wall Street Journal hadn’t stumbled across the information, we might never have known about this domestic military surveillance program. But since the NSA is under the authority of the executive branch and the President of the United States, then the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board would have had the power to uncover this program and report on its activities to the Congress and the public. It doesn’t stop there. In 2010, after the disclosure of the program’s existence, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board would have had the power to assess the claims of the NSA that Perfect Citizen is just a hypothetical program.
The board would have been able to do these things if it had been constituted as it should have been in 2009. But for 535 days now, Barack Obama has ignored federal law and failed to nominate even one member to sit on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Board. The Board remains nonexistent. The Board’s oversight functions are going undone. Because the board has not been filled and does not exist, it cannot carry out these investigative and reporting functions on programs like Perfect Citizen. We’re lucky we even know that the program exists. We have no idea what other Obama administration programs are out there that may be violating our constitutional rights. And when programs like Perfect Citizen do come to light, there’s no way to assess the accuracy of the NSA’s protestations that this is all just “research” and we don’t have to worry our purty little heads none.
The ongoing lack of a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is not only a violation of federal law, but is also a violation of the trust placed in a candidate who told us on the campaign trail that unlike his predecessor, he would restore the rule of law and obey the Constitution. This is not the Change we were promised.