January 04, 2017

Why Trump must save the government's privacy board

By Adam Klein

The terror attack in a popular Istanbul nightclub on Sunday is yet another reminder of the need for capable and vigorous counterterrorism programs. At the same time, the United States has always been defined by its commitment to individual liberty and the rule of law. The question is how to reconcile an aggressive campaign to defeat terrorist groups and secure the homeland with those enduring values.

The answer is not, as the cliché goes, to find a “balance” between civil liberties and security. Balancing implies that one value can simply be traded off for the other. Instead, Americans rightly expect their government to deliver both liberty and security. Policymakers have attempted to meet those expectations by ensuring that the government’s powerful intelligence capabilities are matched by equally powerful oversight bodies, including key committees in Congress and the independent Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in the judicial branch. But the first line of defense sits within the executive branch itself, with privacy officers, inspectors general and one relatively new but important agency: the bipartisan Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.

The board has only recently become a credible, visible oversight agency — yet it is already on the verge of becoming defunct, with too few Senate-confirmed members to function. This would be a setback for Americans’ privacy and civil liberties. But counterintuitively, it would also have an immediate and detrimental effect for national security and counterterrorism. The board’s reports can help legitimize controversial programs and prove to skeptical allies that the U.S. prioritizes privacy protections. By contrast, a defunct board would be an embarrassing eyesore on the oversight landscape, degrading U.S. credibility and fueling skepticism abroad.

Read the full article at Politico.

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