Groups Urge Senate to Hold Confirmation Hearings to Ensure Privacy and Civil Liberties are Protected

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March 19, 2012

A diverse coalition of twenty groups sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 13, 2012 requesting it to promptly hold confirmation hearings on President Obama's nominees to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). “President Obama has finally offered a full bipartisan slate of candidates to serve on this essential oversight board. It is now time for the Senate to carry out its duties,” the groups told Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA), the committee's chairman and ranking member.  The PCLOB is intended to play a vital, independent role in overseeing the privacy and civil liberties implications of national security programs and policies, but no one has been confirmed to serve on it.

“The PCLOB is needed to provide critical oversight as the government develops and relies on new national security programs, including reliance on powerful new technologies and information collection systems. The Board must be a watchdog for the American public in assuring that national security programs, including data collection capabilities and cybersecurity measures, do not infringe on their privacy rights and civil liberties,” the letter says.  
Originally one of the recommendations from the 9/11 Commission report, the PCLOB was designed as one way of “reconciling security with liberty, since the success of one helps protect the other.” The report called for the creation of the PCLOB to “oversee adherence to the guidelines [the 9/11 Commission] recommends and the commitment the government makes to defend our civil liberties.”
In March 2010, members of the Senate and House wrote to President Obama requesting the immediate nomination of “qualified individuals to the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.” Led by House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS), the House’s letter said, “As new privacy and civil liberties issues emerge, such as the use of new screening technologies and watchlisting procedures, it is imperative that the Board be fully operational.”