September 23, 2014

Bipartisan, Bicameral Group Introduces Bill to Strengthen Privacy Oversight Board

SPOT Act Strengthens Privacy Protection Body’s Ability to Oversee Intelligence Community

Washington, D.C. – In an effort to significantly improve the oversight and accountability of the nation’s intelligence community, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.) and U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) spearheaded a bipartisan, bicameral effort to strengthen the government’s privacy protection board.  The legislation gives the oversight board greater ability to carry out its function of balancing the government’s national security and counterterrorism activities with the need to protect the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans. The bill is cosponsored by U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., and U.S. Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-S.C.

The ‘‘Strengthening Privacy, Oversight, and Transparency Act’’ or ‘‘SPOT Act’’ expands the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s authority to play a watchdog role over surveillance conducted for purposes beyond counterterrorism. It also allows the PCLOB to issue subpoenas without having to wait for the Justice Department to issue them, and makes the board members full-time positions.

“The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board’s mission is fundamental to Americans’ constitutional rights, but it can do even better work if its authorities are expanded and clarified,” Wyden said. “This bill gives the board the teeth it needs to fulfill its mandate of ensuring the government’s efforts to protect citizens at home and abroad also protect Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.”

“The American people should not be forced to choose between safety and security, or freedom, privacy, and civil liberties.  Recent revelations of actions within the intelligence community show that these basic principles upon which our country was founded have been violated in the name of security.  We have a responsibility to the people we serve to make sure that this is not allowed to occur, which is what this legislation seeks to do.  I thank Senators Ron Wyden and Tom Udall, and Rep. Trey Gowdy, for joining me in introducing legislation to keep the American people, and their constitutionally guaranteed freedoms, safe and secure,” said Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, who has been a vocal critic of the NSA’s overreaching spying programs.

“Our country must strike the delicate balance between protecting our national security and our civil liberties.  Many Americans are rightly concerned the pendulum has swung too far away from our civil liberties. That is why I commend my friend Rep. Tulsi Gabbard for her work on this bill and am happy to support the effort to equip the PCLOB to actually do its job,” Gowdy said. “For example, it makes little sense to charge the Board with independently monitoring the executive branch’s actions related to privacy concerns, but require the Attorney General’s approval before issuing subpoenas. This bill will help ensure our intelligence agencies safeguard the American people’s civil liberties while protecting our national security.”

"As chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that funds the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, I have fought to ensure the board has the resources necessary to conduct rigorous oversight of the government's surveillance activities," Udall said.  "Expanding the board's jurisdiction to include all foreign intelligence activities will help further protect against the government's unacceptable infringement on Americans' privacy rights.  I know we can protect both our security and our constitutional rights, but we need two things for true reform: open debate and independent oversight.  I'm proud to join Senator Wyden and our colleagues in the House to introduce this bill that will expand that oversight."

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is an independent oversight body that was expanded in 2007 as part of Congress’ measures to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The commission called for an executive branch board that would ensure that government efforts to protect American security also protect Americans’ privacy and civil liberties. More recently, a number of outside experts, including the President’s own surveillance Review Group, have recommended that the Board’s mandate and authorities be expanded and clarified.  

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