WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The Constitution Project is urging a newly-constituted civilian privacy board to use its access to classified information to scrutinize the privacy and civil liberties implications of secret national security programs that are completely unknown to the public, or whose existence has not been confirmed by the government. The bipartisan constitutional watchdog group also called on the board to review the Obama administration's use of drone attacks against suspected terrorists, including American citizens, and to examine a range of government surveillance programs.
Testifying before the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior policy counsel at The Constitution Project (TCP), said that the need for independent review is greatest where the very existence of the program is considered classified, or where there has been no opportunity for public comment and, at best, limited disclosure through the media.
"When the public doesn't even know that a potentially invasive program exists, it can't insist on accountability, either directly or through its representatives in Congress, and therefore oversight by the privacy board is particularly critical," Franklin said.
The board is intended to play a vital role in overseeing the privacy and civil liberties implications of national security programs and policies. It met for the first time on Wednesday.
"TCP welcomes the convening of this critical board. Now that four members have been confirmed to serve, it is essential that it begins its important work without further delay," Franklin said.
TCP also urged the PCLOB to review the executive branch's "playbook" for its targeted killing or drone program, especially cases in which the targets might be U.S. citizens or legal U.S. residents, who clearly have constitutional rights. According to media reports, drone attacks have killed at least two Americans -- Anwar al-Awlaki and his teenage son -- without any judicial review provided before these individuals were targeted.
"While the existence of the targeted killing program has been widely reported, the administration developed policies implementing it entirely in secret. There has not yet been any independent review or public accountability for this program, and so oversight by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is absolutely essential," Franklin said.
She also said the PCLOB should look at the privacy and civil liberties implications of government programs that involve intelligence collection on, and monitoring of, U.S. persons and their private information, including surveillance conducted pursuant to both the FISA Amendments Act and the Patriot Act, cybersecurity programs, data mining programs, and the federal role in fusion centers.
TCP has long urged Congress and the president to establish and staff an independent privacy board. First created in 2004 based on the recommendations of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, Congress expanded the authority of the PCLOB in 2007, including providing it with subpoena power, but the president failed to nominate a full slate of members to serve on it until last December. The Senate finally confirmed four of the five nominees in August.
A copy of TCP's testimony is at http://constitutionproject.org/pdf/103112_statementtopclob.pdf.