In July 2004, the 9/11 commission called for the creation of a board, within the executive branch, that would oversee the commitment government makes to defend our civil liberties. In December of 2004, Congress created The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. Now we come to March 2006, and Newsweek is reporting that this week the board will finally have its first meeting. Since its creation, this board has never had a meeting or even hired a staff. President Bush’s new budget does not include any funds for this board. This board will have the responsibility to review the NSA spying program, The Homeland Security’s opening of inbound international mail, and the secrecy and torture in government prisons. These have been some of the most important issues facing America since the board was created, and yet they are now just getting around to their first meeting. Clearly, getting this board off the ground was not a priority for the Bush administration.
The intelligence bill calls for the board members to be qualified on the basis of achievement, experience and independence. With this in mind, the Bush administration appointed Carol Dinkins to chair the board. Carol Dinkins is a former senior justice official under Ronald Regan, former law partner of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and former campaign treasurer for Bush’s 1994 gubernatorial campaign. Alan Raul was appointed Vice Chair. He is a lawyer and author of the book, Privacy and the Digital State: Balancing Public Information and Personal Privacy. This book argues that “privacy is inherently relative, and is always balanced alongside of various social exigencies, such as other compelling rights guaranteed by the Constitution, the interest of the public in broad disclosure of and access to government records, and the desire to foster an efficient, productive economy.” Also on the board is Larry Davis, former Clinton White House advisor, Theodore Olson, former Bush administration solicitor general, and Francis Taylor, former counter terrorism chief at the State Department
The members of the committee have security clearances and are authorized to request information from executive branch officials. The attorney General will have final say as to whether officials must comply with the board’s recommendations. The board is expected to report to congress and serve as a check and balance on presidential power. This is an administration that has resisted any oversight of it policies; it will be interesting to see if they allow this board to serve as more than window dressing.