A once little-known advisory panel is now navigating the challenges of investigating the National Security Agency’s classified surveillance programs and informing the public about them.
In the wake of former contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board plans to produce a report on the legality of the agency’s surveillance programs and investigate if the classified programs appropriately balance privacy and civil liberties, said the Board’s Chairman David Medine today on Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.
“Our challenge is to understand exactly how these programs work, but speak about them publicly in a way that Americans can understand the programs and evaluate them. We will work in some cases to have information declassified, if it permits us a greater opportunity to explain how these programs work,” Medine said. “Our view is to try to enhance counterterrorism efforts but also enhance Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.” The board consists of five lawyers who have top security clearances from the FBI and full access to the details of NSA’s programs, Medine said. The board met with President Barack Obama in June to discuss how to inform the public on the NSA’s activities. Medine said the board plans to make recommendations to the president and Congress in its upcoming report.
The Board has access to Foreign Intelligence Surveillance court decisions, classified documents and private sector information, Medine stated, adding that he has received tremendous cooperation from members of Congress and agencies. The board has the authority to request information from heads of agencies, as well as issue subpoenas to private sector firms.
Medine said that he believes it is possible to balance security programs and citizen’s privacy.
“We’re both looking at legal compliance issues, but we’re also looking more broadly at the policy issues of privacy and civil liberties to make sure that the government maintains the strongest protection on the national security side but also consider civil liberties and privacy,” Medine said. “We take the view, which is shared by the 9/11 Commission and President Obama, that you can have both strong security against terrorism well as privacy and civil liberties.”
The Senate confirmed the board, which is independent and bipartisan. As the board acts on an as-needed basis, four of the five members are part-time. The board is in the process of hiring more staff, Medine said.
Though the board has not drawn any conclusions yet, he said, it is trying to investigate quickly while remaining as thorough as possible.