The Campaign Spot

Obama Took Three Years to Find Nominees for Civil Liberties Board

Obama to Charlie Rose, yesterday:

I’ve stood up a privacy and civil liberties oversight board made up of independent citizens, including some fierce civil libertarians. I’ll be meeting with them and what I want to do is to set up and structure a national conversation not only about these two programs but also about the general problem of these big data sets because this is not going to be restricted to government entities.

The board Obama is referring to was created in 2004. Nominations and confirmation delays prevented the board from being particularly effective, and it has been particularly quiet in recent years:

President Obama came into office and fared no better. He didn’t nominate a full slate to the board until December 2011. “We did not expect it to be the first set of nominations he made . . . but we were very disappointed that it took as long as it did to get those nominations,” said Sharon Bradford Franklin, senior counsel at the Constitution Project, a legal watchdog. Then Obama’s nominee for chairman, David Medine, was held up by Republicans in the Senate for over a year. Among other things, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) faulted Medine for refusing to say whether or not the country is engaged in a “war on terrorism.”

Without a chairman, the board couldn’t hire staff and had no full-time members. Medine was finally confirmed last month, and he’s still putting the wheels in motion; the board doesn’t even have a website yet. Now, at last, the board might actually function as the commission intended.

Obama’s first two nominations to the board came in December 2010; three more nominations came in December 2011. The Senate confirmed four of the members in August 2012.

The American Civil Liberties Union charged that the “painfully long road reflects not only the extreme partisan gridlock of the times, but also a distinct lack of will within the executive branch to stand up a truly independent oversight body that could risk making the administration look bad.”


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