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In response to the continuing drip of damaging information about the NSA's massive, often illegal surveillance programs, President Obama announced the formation of an "independent" review board of NSA activities. That board, selected by the White House, seems less "outside" and "independent" than "inside" and part of the intelligence community.
There’s Michael Morell, a CIA veteran who once led the agency on an interim basis; Richard Clarke, a top counter-terrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations; and Cass Sunstein, a well-known academic who did regulatory work for the Obama White House and is married to United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power. The panel also includes Peter Swire, a former Clinton administration privacy expert, and Geoffrey Stone, a top professor at the University of Chicago Law School who knows the president.
Announcing the inquiry at an Aug. 9 press conference, Obama described it as “a high-level group of outside experts to review our entire intelligence and communications technologies” — and he stressed it would be “independent.”
“I think it’s fair to say that by stressing the idea of an independent review board, the appointees don’t live up to what most people view as independent,” said Leslie Harris, president of the Center for Democracy and Technology.
The group was originally intended to be selected and established by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper (the guy who lied to Congress about the NSA), but after immediate backlash, the White House distanced Clapper from the group, and said that the White House would choose the review board.
In choosing that board, the White House focused on government expertise and left off some key stakeholders like technologists, representatives from the tech industry, and civil liberties advocates. There is an existing group, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, whose mission is to watchdog civil liberties, so the absence of those representatives on this new board could be explained. The lack of any real technological expertise, however, is an issue. The memo the White House released to announce the group said its mission is to "assess whether, in light of advancements in communications technologies, the United States employs its technical collection capabilities in a manner that optimally protects our national security and advances our foreign policy while appropriately accounting for other policy considerations, such as the risk of unauthorized disclosure and our need to maintain the public trust." In light of that mission statement, the absence of anyone with serious technology cred is a bit of a problem.
It's a big mission, one that could benefit from having some adversarial voices. Those voices are still missing within our government.
Originally posted to Joan McCarter on Thu Aug 29, 2013 at 08:43 AM PDT.