The Project for Privacy and Surveillance Accountability today joins 18 other civil liberties organizations in calling on the Biden Administration to appoint qualified nominees to fill three empty seats on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB).
PCLOB is an independent, bipartisan privacy watchdog established by Congress to bring transparency and accountability to federal surveillance in counterterrorism programs. At present, this bipartisan board lacks a chair and cannot attain a quorum. Worse, PCLOB has recently degenerated into an intelligence agency lapdog instead of a watchdog. It is an embarrassment to rubber stamps everywhere.
PCLOB needs more than a quorum. It needs nominees who are curious, have expertise, are energetic and willing to perform the watchdog function.
EO 12333 is an executive order issued by President Reagan in 1981 to organize the government’s collection, analysis and use of foreign intelligence and counterintelligence. Sen. Richard Burr, former chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, astonished the civil liberties community last year when he said that 12333 allows the executive branch to do whatever it wants, without statutory authority. Many privacy experts remain concerned that with the expiration of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, the “business records provision,” intelligence agencies have simply switched to 12333, in which the executive branch provides its own legal authority.
So what light did PCLOB shed on these vital issues? After six years of examination, it created what is in essence a high-school level book report. One can literally glean as much information from Google and Wikipedia … this, after six years of what PCLOB called a “deep dive review” of classified information.
Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. This FOIA was filed in response to an earlier request filed by Patrick Eddington of the CATO Institute for records on EO 12333. PPSA is still waiting for the production of those records.
“We have seen what can happen when Board members fail to vigorously pursue the Board’s oversight mission,” the coalition letter says. “Years of work can be reduced to reports that provide little if any information or, worse, remain hidden from public view.”
PPSA urges President Biden to appoint qualified nominees as soon as possible.