Tester calls for stronger protection of Montanans’ civil liberties
Senator asks President to strengthen privacy rights by filling vacant seats
(U.S. SENATE) – Senator Jon Tester is urging the Obama Administration to meet its obligations to protect Americans’ civil liberties and privacy rights.
Tester this month pushed President Obama to fulfill the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission by filling the remaining seats on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board.
The board, created in 2004 and strengthened in 2007, was established to examine anti-terrorism and security policies to ensure that they do not violate the privacy and civil liberties of law-abiding American citizens. However, three of its five seats remain vacant.
Tester, in a letter to President Obama, cited the importance of making sure the board had full membership so that it can do its job effectively.
“Filling Board vacancies will ensure that its work can go forward and provide the American public confidence that its government places a high priority on effectively fighting terrorism while also protecting the privacy and civil liberties of all law-abiding Americans,” Tester wrote. “As you begin taking immediate steps to fill the remaining Board vacancies, I trust that you will work with Congress in a close and productive manner.”
Tester, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, also noted that proper board oversight will enhance transparency and national security.
“A robust and visible Board can help reassure Americans that these programs are designed and executed with the preservation of our core values in mind,” Tester wrote. “Board review can also give national security officials an extra degree of assurance that their efforts will not be perceived later as violating civil liberties.”
Tester’s letter is a response to recent concerns from the chairmen of the 9/11 Commission, who say vacancies on the oversight board constitute a failure to implement their recommendations.
Tester has long been a strong advocate for Americans’ civil liberties. Earlier this year, he once again voted against extending the highly controversial Patriot Act and criticized the FBI’s new rules giving agents significant new powers to investigate the private lives of law-abiding Americans.
Tester’s letter to President Obama appears below and online HERE.
Dear Mr. President:
I write today to express my concerns about the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, and to request attention to filling the remaining vacancies on the Board. It is imperative that the Board carry out its intended purpose: to provide additional oversight to ensure that the security policies of this nation do not infringe upon the privacy rights and civil liberties of American citizens.
As you know, the establishment of this Board was originally a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission. It was established by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act in 2004, and it was subsequently reconstituted as an independent agency by one of the first bills I supported in the Senate. The 9/11 Commission supported the creation of such an entity because it is critical to closely examine our national security policies with respect to potential privacy and civil liberty concerns.
As Members of the 9/11 Commission have testified, “An array of security-related policies and programs present significant privacy and liberty concerns. A robust and visible Board can help reassure Americans that these programs are designed and executed with the preservation of our core values in mind. Board review can also give national security officials an extra degree of assurance that their efforts will not be perceived later as violating civil liberties.” Yet, 10 years after the events of 9/11, the work of this Board has been widely considered a disappointment. During a recent hearing before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Commission Chairman Thomas Kean and Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton testified that, if they were giving grades, the Board would fail.
I remain hopeful that the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board can ultimately provide critical oversight on issues ranging from airport security, cyber security, and various other challenges. With an increasing number of privacy and civil liberties issues, such as new TSA screening procedures, watch listing procedures, and wiretapping, it is imperative that this Board be fully operational. It can no longer remain dormant. Filling Board vacancies will ensure that its work can go forward and provide the American public confidence that its government places a high priority on effectively fighting terrorism while also protecting the privacy and civil liberties of all law-abiding Americans.
It should also be noted that, in the Fiscal Year 2012 Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Bill, which the Senate will soon consider, the Appropriations Committee expressed similar concerns about the functionality of the Board and the need to fill open vacancies in a timely manner. Indeed, the Board needs three additional members to be confirmed so that it can finally begin its critically important work.
As you begin taking immediate steps to fill the remaining Board vacancies, I trust that you will work with Congress in a close and productive manner.