Fate of privacy board uncertain

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The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board responsible for protecting US citizens against abuses perpetrated by government spies is in disarray. The five member board will have to do with only two remaining members from January 7. Worryingly, there will be no Democrats on the board even it is needed to function as a bipartisan and an independent agency. The effect of such vacancies is that the board will lack the required minimum of three members needed to conduct businesses. They can work only on existing projects. All new members must be nominated by Trump, who then must have Senate confirmation.

Tattered board

Democrat Jim Dempsey will exit the board on January 3 due to the Senate not confirming his renomination made by President Obama. Another Democrat, Patricia Wald, the former United States Judge, informed White House during the first week of December that she wants to retire from January 7. Sharon Bradford Franklin, the board’s executive director, plans to resign before Trump becomes president.

The importance of the board came into the picture when Edward Snowden, the former contractor employed by National Security Agency (NSA), did whistle-blowing on the scope of the massive US spying on its own citizens in 2013. It concluded that the phone surveillance system instituted by the NSA goes against the laws of the land. The board reviewed Section 215 of Patriot Act use. This act was taken advantage of by the NSA to conduct mass collection of the domestic phone records. The members of the board concluded that the program can be termed illegal and recommended that its activities should be turned off.

Function and statute

The board, from then on, played an important role to ensure that Congress members and public have a peek into the classified and secretive universe of intelligence agencies. However, it remains unclear of Trump will support such an oversight of intelligence agencies. The now President-Elect appeared to give support to a more robust surveillance and intelligence structure during his campaign trial. He especially said that mosques should be surveyed. However, his recent comments betrayed distrust for the workings of intelligence agencies. Trump’s transition team declined to comment on the matter.

The oversight board was made in 2007 by a statute. It comprises of part time members and those members must have top secret clearance. Although it has no enforcement ability, the board has powers of invoking public concerns and persuasion. This power is extremely diminished if it lacks less than three members needed for public reports.

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