ACLU Leaders Meet with White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Board, Call for Board to Exercise Strong, Independent Role

April 27, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Key leaders from the American Civil Liberties Union today met with the White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board in order to encourage that panel to conduct aggressive investigation and oversight over several matters of pivotal importance to the civil liberties of all Americans.

“We appreciate the board’s willingness to meet with us in a welcome first step,” said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. “But one meeting after 17 months of the board’s inactivity should not be celebrated as protecting civil liberties. Many questions remain about the board’s independence and their effectiveness.”

Romero and Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office, met with Chairman Carol Dinkins, Vice Chairman Alan Raul and Executive Director Mark Robbins this morning at the White House.

In today’s meeting, the ACLU urged the board to take the following steps to ensure openness and accountability:

    • Hold public hearings and issue public reports, along the model of the 9/11 Commission, to increase awareness of the important privacy and civil liberties issues raised by new government anti-terrorism efforts;
    • Review whether federal agencies working to combat terrorism are targeting innocent citizens or other lawful residents. The ACLU leaders pointed specifically to the warrantless eavesdropping by the National Security Agency;
    • Examine the implications for individuals and the government of the proliferation and management of watch lists, the growing number of names on watch lists, and the constitutional and legal implications of being placed on such a list; and
    • Advise the president regarding the legality and propriety of permitting government agencies to contract with private companies to engage in eavesdropping and data mining that the government could not do on its own due to technological and legal barriers.

    The board was created on December 17, 2004, when President Bush signed into law the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. However, since its creation, the administration has done little to actually implement the launch of the board, with members not appointed until June 10, 2005. The ACLU noted that the White House also failed to include specific funding for the board in its budget for 2007.

    The initial call for the board was part of the 9/11 Commission’s report; which found that: “At this time of increased and consolidated government authority, there should be a board within the executive branch to oversee adherence to the guidelines we recommend and the commitment the government makes to defend our civil liberties.”

    The ACLU has been critical of the board because its members are appointed by the incumbent president and serve at the President’s pleasure and because its powers to obtain documents and testimony are subject to a veto by the Attorney General.

    “The board has an opportunity to show that it is not in the pocket of the president and is truly concerned with the liberty and privacy of the American people,” said Fredrickson. “Given the ever-growing expansion of the government’s law enforcement powers, effective oversight is absolutely essential. We hope that the board will provide real oversight, and not simply the illusion.”

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