In an executive order issued on Friday night, President Bush responded to a
key 9/11 commission recommendation by creating a civil liberties board
composed of high-level government officials tasked with making sure their
agencies’ programs do not violate privacy and civil rights laws.
Civil liberties advocates blasted the board, comparing it to the proverbial
“fox guarding the hen house,” and questioned how it could be effective
without outside appointees and independent investigative powers.
The President’s Board on Safeguarding Americans’ Civil Liberties will be
housed in the Justice Department and led by the Deputy Attorney General
James Comey and the Department of Homeland Security’s Under Secretary for
Border and Transportation Security Asa Hutchinson.
Other members include officials from the Central Intelligence Agency, the
National Security Agency, the Terrorist Threat Integration Center and the
Pentagon, along with privacy officials such as Homeland Security’s chief
privacy officer, Nuala O’Connor Kelly.
The board’s official duties include advising the president on civil
liberties, helping craft policy, requesting reports from federal agencies
and reviewing a specific agency program when invited to do so by the agency
in charge of that policy. The board could not initiate investigations on
its own, however, and the order makes no mention of reports to the public.
Lara Flint, a lawyer for the Center for Democracy and Technology — a
centrist civil liberties group known for working closely with Congress —
found little of value in the proposal.
“This is not what a civil liberties board should look like if it is
intended to be robust, effective and independent,” Flint said. “It is made
up of people who need civil liberties oversight.”
The CDT and others have been working with senators turning the 9/11
commission recommendations into legislative language in order to create a
civil liberties board with investigative powers and the ability to have
“input in the areas where it really needs it, which is where the law is
ambiguous or there is no law,” Flint said..