PCLOB nominees ready to hear the government's case for security measures

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Nominees to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board vowed on April 18 to work with federal agencies to understand their needs before the board draws conclusions about whether their activities violate civil liberties.

The five nominees--David Medine, James Dempsey, Elisebeth Cook, Rachel Brand and Patricia Wald--spoke at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing. Medine is the nominee for chairman.

Wald said PCLOB should embark upon an "intensive effort of contact" with all agencies involved in counterterrorism in order to build trust between the agencies and PCLOB. She said the board's role should be to add value to agency's activities, not come in afterward on a "gotcha basis" to call them out for civil liberties violations.

Dempsey also noted the importance of listening to the executive branch before deciding what is necessary to achieve national security.

The PCLOB was established in 2004 as an agency within the executive office of the president. Because of concerns that this structure limited PCLOB's impartiality, Congress reconstituted it as an independent agency in 2007. The Senate never acted on President Bush's 2008 nominations, and President Obama didn't announce a full slate of nominees until December 2011.

Medine pointed out that although PCLOB lacks authority to force agencies to follow its suggestions, it will have means to promote its views such as speaking to the public and Congress. He also said he hoped the board, if necessary, could blow the whistle on civil liberties violations in an unclassified forum.

The nominees were light on specifics when committee members asked for their positions on various issues. They said they needed access to classified information before they could judge the government's actions on such issues as national security letters or the killing of suspected terrorists who are U.S. citizens.

Wald did say that many situations exist where due process doesn't require a judicial process. That has been the Obama administration's justification for killing U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki without any judicial process.

Similarly, the nominees mostly deferred questions about cybersecurity privacy issues until they have access to more information and can study the issue in depth.

But Dempsey said he thought the thorniest issue around cybersecurity is how much information private companies should give the government about Internet users. He suggested that a clear definition of what kind of information private companies can give the government would prevent the government from getting excessive access to information.

For more:
- go to the hearing webpage (archived webcast available)

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