Obama meets barely functional privacy ‘oversight’ board

Reuters reports: President Barack Obama will meet on Friday with members of a privacy oversight watchdog board to try to reassure Americans rattled by revelations of the U.S. government’s vast monitoring of phone and Internet data.

Obama is scrambling to show he has credibility on the issue after coming under fire for the scope of surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency, which was revealed in a series of disclosures by former government contractor Edward Snowden.

The Associated Press reports: The obscure oversight board that President Barack Obama wants to scrutinize the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance system is little known for good reason. The U.S. Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board has operated fitfully during its eight years of low-profile existence, stymied by congressional infighting and, at times, censorship by government lawyers.

The privacy board was to meet Wednesday, its first meeting since revelations that the NSA has been secretly collecting the phone records of millions of Americans. The meeting will be closed to the public.

The board has existed since 2004, first as part of the executive branch, then, after a legislative overhaul that took effect in 2008, as an independent board of presidential appointees reporting to Congress. But hindered by Obama administration delays and then resistance from Republicans in Congress, the new board was not fully functional until May, when its chairman, David Medine, finally was confirmed.

Obama’s sudden leaning on the board as a civil libertarian counterweight to the government’s elaborate secret surveillance program places trust in an organization that is untested and whose authority at times still defers to Congress and government censors.

“They’ve been in startup mode a long time,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, a senior counsel at the Constitution Project, a bipartisan civil liberties watchdog group. “With all the concerns about the need for a debate on the issue of surveillance, this is a great opportunity for them to get involved.”

It was not clear how much classified information would be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting. As late as April 2012, the board’s incoming chairman did not have a security clearance and the board did not have the classified, secure meeting area that is necessary to review and discuss classified government material.

The board’s five appointees recently got security clearances, said Franklin, who attended the new group’s first two meetings in October and March. “The first thing they can do is push for more disclosure and a more well-rounded picture of the surveillance programs,” she said.

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