6.12.06

Bush 'Privacy Board' Another Lie

Wired News: Bush 'Privacy Board' Just a Gag:

The first public meeting of a Bush administration 'civil liberties protection panel' had a surreal quality to it, as the five-member board refused to answer any questions from the press, and stonewalled privacy advocates and academics on key questions about domestic spying.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which met Tuesday, was created by Congress in 2004 on the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, but is part of the White House, which handpicked all the members. Though mandated by law in late 2004, the board was not sworn in until March 2006, due to inaction on the part of the White House and Congress.

The three-hour meeting, held at Georgetown University, quickly established that the panel would be something less than a fierce watchdog of civil liberties. Instead, members all but said they view their job as helping Americans learn to relax and love warrantless surveillance.

'The question is, how much can the board share with the public about the protections incorporated in both the development and implementation of those policies?' said Alan Raul, a Washington D.C. lawyer who serves as vice chairman. 'On the public side, I believe the board can help advance national security and the rights of American by helping explain how the government safeguards U.S. personal information.'

Board members were briefed on the government's NSA-run warrantless wiretapping program last week, and said they were impressed by how the program handled information collected from American citizens' private phone calls and e-mail.

But the ACLU's Caroline Fredrickson was quick to ridicule the board's response to the administration's anti-terrorism policies, charging that the panel's private meetings to date largely consisted of phone calls with government insiders and agencies.

'When our government is torturing innocent people and spying on Americans without a warrant, the PCLOB should act -- indeed, should have acted long ago,' Fredrickson said. 'Clearly you've been fiddling while Rome burns. This board needs to bring a little sunshine. So far America is kept in the dark -- and this is the first public meeting you have had.'

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