In this week’s brief and superficial hearing in the House of Representatives concerning the renewal of the most abusive surveillance powers of the Patriot Act, there was an elephant in the room that no one wanted to talk about: The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is required by law, and is given the authority to conduct reviews of the use of the Patriot Act to ensure that the spying law does not violate the constitutional rights of Americans. The Board is supposed to issue reports to Congress about the Patriot Act and civil liberties every six months.
The idea of the Board sounds reassuring, but there’s a problem: the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is completely non-operational, it has been for years, and it has never operated with its full oversight authority.
That means that no one in the U.S. House or the U.S. Senate is getting the legally required reports about whether the Patriot Act is violating our constitutional rights. You’ll hear many members of Congress say that they haven’t heard of any violations of civil liberties under the Patriot Act. What they’re not telling you is that the reason that they haven’t heard any reports of such violations is that the U.S. Senate and the President of the United States have refused to allow the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board to do its work.
The Board cannot legally meet and do any work until it has three members. But, in the more than two years since Barack Obama became President, he has only nominated two people to join the board. Furthermore, the U.S. Senate has refused to confirm those two nominees, Elisabeth Cook and James X. Dempsey.
So, Congress hasn’t received the legally required reports on whether the Patriot Act is violating our constitutional rights. Yet, no one in this week’s hearing by the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security mentioned that glaring problem. Congress seems willing to move smoothly ahead to renew the Patriot Act without being informed about what the Patriot Act is actually doing.
Tomorrow, in front of the U.S. Capitol Building, a group of patriotic Americans will gather in protest against the Patriot Act. They are demanding full repeal of the Patriot Act because, as long as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is not allowed to do its work, no one in America can be confident that their constitutional rights are safe from Patriot Act powers.