White House privacy board protects its own privacy

The White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, created to advise the President on privacy and civil liberties concerns in the war on terrorism, met in public for the first time Tuesday to hear from experts in the field. And did they get an earful.

The largest criticisms of the board, which is appointed by the President, are that it isn’t independent and has no authority to effect any changes.

The meeting started with an explanation that “their job was to help Americans understand how the government protects their rights and to work behind the scenes to help privacy officers in the government,” writes Wired News reporter Ryan Singel, who attended the meeting in Washington, D.C.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought a whole laundry list of privacy and civil liberties complaints to the meeting.

“Our message to you is this: our democracy is at risk when the unprecedented threats to privacy and civil liberties undertaken in the name of the war on terror go unanswered and unchecked,” said Caroline Fredrickson, ACLU’s head lobbyist in D.C. “We ask today: when did the American people become the enemy?”

Former Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., an outspoken critic of the board who attended the meeting, said the panel “does not seem poised to provide independent or objective advice to truly protect Americans’ constitutional rights.”

Board Chairwoman Carol Dinkins said the meeting was not a stand-alone event but rather the beginning of an ongoing discussion. — National Journal’s Technology Daily

But the board didn’t seem particularly interested in sharing information.

Lisa Graves, the Deputy Director of the Center for National Security Studies, had two simple questions for the White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Board: Did they know how many Americans had been eavesdropped on by the warrantless wiretapping program and if so, how many?

Alan Raul, the panel’s vice chairman, acknowledged in a roundabout way that the members had gotten such data, but said that the data were too sensitive to release. Graves then asked if the Board had pushed to have that data made public, as are the Justice Department is required to do with raw numbers of typical spy wiretaps.

Raul declined to say if the board had suggested that.

“It is important for us to retain confidentiality on what recommendations we have and haven’t made,” Raul said. — 27B Stroke 6

So this board is going to operate behind the scenes, taking information in from us but never giving anything back, except for its annual report to Congress, and if we’re lucky, that won’t be classified.

Others at the meeting urged that government watchlists, rapidly expanding in number and scope, not be perverted into “blacklists” to prevent people from getting jobs or government services, and that means of redress be provided for people inappropriately placed on the lists.

It appears we’re back to “Trust us, we’re from the government and we’re here to help you.” I’m afraid I don’t believe that for a second.