Daily Updates

June 19, 2013

Oversight board concerned about NSA surveillance

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the federal oversight board that President Barack Obama said will meet with him to discuss the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance program said Wednesday that the group has numerous concerns about the operation and plans to publish a report after a full inquiry.

David Medine, who heads the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, told The Associated Press that board members have a “broad range of questions” about the NSA’s widespread collection of Americans’ phone and Internet data. Medine, who spoke following a closed-door meeting of the group, did not detail the board’s concerns.

Medine said the group was given a classified briefing June 11 about the secret data collection programs by senior officials of the NSA, FBI, Justice Department and the national intelligence director’s office. Medine declined to identify the officials who attended the briefings.

“Based on what we’ve learned so far, further questions are warranted,” he said.

The oversight board’s two-hour meeting Wednesday was its first since revelations that the NSA secretly has been collecting phone data of millions of Americans and Internet records that are aimed at foreign users but that it also sometimes sweeps up materials from inside the U.S. The meeting was closed to the public because the board discussed classified information, Medine said.

Obama said earlier this week that he would rely on the oversight board to “set up and structure a national conversation” about the two secret programs exposed recently by NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The revelations, published in Britain’s Guardian and Washington Post newspapers, exposed the NSA’s massive phone and Internet data collection efforts.

Medine said the oversight board will study the NSA programs and publish a report that includes recommendations. He said the White House would set a date for the board to meet with Obama. The group also plans a July 9 public meeting.

“We’ll take testimony from experts, advocates and academics on the legality of these programs and their operations and how they address privacy and civil liberties,” Medine said.

Obama’s sudden reliance on the board as a civil libertarian counterweight to the government’s elaborate secret surveillance program places trust in an organization that is untested and whose authority at times still defers to Congress and government censors.

The little-known oversight board has operated fitfully during its eight years of existence, stymied by congressional infighting and, at times, censorship by government lawyers. Dormant during the first term of the Obama administration, the board only became fully functional in May and held only two previous meetings.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Medine said, the board discussed its recent classified briefing by national security officials. He added that all five board members have security clearances but because the group is in its early stages, the group has to rely on other federal agencies to provide secure meeting areas where it can review and discuss classified materials.

In an interview this week with television talk show host Charlie Rose, Obama said he planned to meet with the oversight board and “set up and structure a national conversation” about the NSA’s surveillance programs and also “about the general problem of these big data sets because this is not going to be restricted to government entities.”

The board’s mandate includes privacy as well as national security concerns. In theory, it could veer into questions about how Internet companies such as Google and Facebook as well as hundreds of other data-mining companies deal with privacy and how government might regulate those entities.

But as Sharon Bradford Franklin, a senior counsel at the Constitution Project, a bipartisan civil liberties watchdog group, and other civil liberties experts said, the board’s role is largely advisory, identifying problems and suggesting possible solutions.

The board has existed since 2004, first as part of the executive branch, then, after a legislative overhaul that took effect in 2008, as an independent board of presidential appointees reporting to Congress.

Hindered by Obama administration delays and then resistance from Republicans in Congress, the new board was not fully functional until May, when Medine was confirmed.

“They’ve been in startup mode a long time,” Franklin said. “With all the concerns about the need for a debate on the issue of surveillance, this is a great opportunity for them to get involved.”

“They have statutory authority in two main areas,” Franklin said. “One is evaluating whether safeguards on civil liberties are adequate and the other is in transparency — informing the public and ensuring the government is more transparent.”

But there are still limits on the group’s independence when it comes to the public disclosure of classified material. While the board has leeway in scrutinizing classified material and referencing top secret documents, it can only make those materials public if they are first declassified by the government, said Lanny Davis, who was one of the first board’s five members.

Davis resigned in 2007 over his concerns that the board was tied too closely to the executive branch. The group’s first report included more than 200 changes by government lawyers. The controversy led to a congressional overhaul that made the board answerable to Congress instead of the White House.

 

1
Text Only
Daily Updates
  • 10 Things to Know for Friday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Friday.

    April 24, 2014

  • In Other News, April 24

    April 24, 2014

  • Afghan hospital guard kills 3 American doctors

    An Afghan government security guard opened fire Thursday on a group of foreign doctors at a Kabul hospital, killing three American physicians and wounding a U.S. nurse, officials said.

    April 24, 2014

  • Nevada rancher condemned for racist remarks

     A Nevada rancher who has become a conservative folk hero for resisting the federal government’s attempts to round up his cattle faced sharp criticism Thursday for racist comments published in a New York Times article.

    April 24, 2014

  • NRA seeks universal gun law at national meeting

    With concealed weapons now legal in all 50 states, the National Rifle Association’s focus at this week’s annual meeting is less about enacting additional state protections than on making sure the permits already issued still apply when the gun owners travel across the country.

    April 24, 2014

  • 10 Things to Know for Thursday

    Your daily look at late-breaking news, upcoming events and the stories that will be talked about Thursday.

    April 23, 2014

  • In Other News, April 23

    April 23, 2014

  • US weighs clemency for inmates jailed for 10 years

    The Justice Department is encouraging nonviolent federal inmates who have behaved in prison, have no significant criminal history and have already served more than 10 years behind bars to apply for clemency, officials announced Wednesday.

    April 23, 2014

  • High court tosses $3.4M award to child porn victim

    The Supreme Court on Wednesday rejected a plea to make it easier for victims of child pornography to collect money from people who view their images online, throwing out a nearly $3.4 million judgment in favor of a woman whose childhood rape has been widely seen on the Internet. Two dissenting justices said Congress should change the law to benefit victims.

    April 23, 2014

  • Airport security vulnerabilities not uncommon

    For all the tens of billions of dollars that the nation has spent on screening passengers and their bags, few airports made a comparable investment to secure the airplanes themselves.

    April 23, 2014