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NSA's civil liberties impact to be measured by federal watchdog

Ellen Messmer | March 6, 2014
A government watchdog group tasked with overseeing whether actions the President's executive office takes to combat terrorism don't throw civil liberties overboard in the process is taking aim at the National Security Agency's "PRISM" data-collection surveillance program.

As regards, PRISM, "I hope in our report we can be more clear about how that works," Dempsey said during the panel discussion at RSA Conference.

Though the PCLOB was created through federal law in 2007, it only really got into working gear last May — right before the Snowden leaks began — when Medine was appointed as its chair after a Congressional review process. The group anticipates there will be many more privacy and civil liberties issues it will take up, not all of them related directly to NSA Internet surveillance.

Medine thinks the group  could one day take on the privacy and civil liberties implications of drones used by the government. 

In addition, the question has come up whether the PCLOB could play the role as a "safe haven" for "whistleblowers" to share information about government programs they think violate civil liberties. Medine is open to this idea of the group being "the central place to go" for whistleblowers in this regard.

But in the meantime, PCLOB is there simply to advise the President on the privacy and civil liberties impact of counter-terrorism programs based on the board's own investigation and reports. And so far, President Obama has listened to the group's advice but not followed it, with the White House indicating it doesn't think the bulk-telephony records collection program is illegal, though it's willing to consider changes.


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