Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Begins Work

This morning, the long-awaited Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is holding its first public meeting. Congress created the board in 2007 to ensure privacy and civil liberties are protected from overzealous domestic counterterrorism activities.

However, the board has laid dormant since its creation. The Senate failed to confirm President Bush's nominees in 2008. President Obama did not submit nominations until 2010, which the Senate did not confirm until August 2012. The board remains without a chair: the Senate Judiciary Committee approved President Obama's nominee, David Medine, in May, but the full Senate has not taken up the nomination.

Despite the delays and even without a chair, the board now has enough members to begin its important work. Its first public meeting will be an opportunity to hear ideas about what kind of oversight activities the board should undertake.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is, of course, a new independent federal agency. Because new agencies are starting from scratch, there is a unique opportunity for them to establish policies and programs that build on the best practices of other agencies. With this in mind, OMB Watch submitted comments for the board's first public meeting and urged the board to be as open and transparent in its own activities as possible. Our comments highlight agency best practices for proactively disclosing information and effectively implementing the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Developing a reputation for transparency can also burnish a new agency's credibility – something that could be crucial to the efficacy of the board's oversight functions.

We strongly support the board's purpose and hope it will pursue a vigorous oversight agenda. Government has a responsibility to protect us from terrorist threats, but it should not – and need not – undermine the civil liberties and privacy of our citizens to do so. Oversight mechanisms like the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board provide important checks on the activities of law enforcement and intelligence agencies to ensure they remain accountable to our nation's larger principles.

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