President Obama will hold his first-ever meeting with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) -- the group charged with ensuring the executive branch balances privacy and civil liberties needs with its national security efforts -- on Friday, according to a senior administration official.
The move comes as the White House is under intense scrutiny for how it conducts its secret surveillance programs, including through monitoring Americans' cell phone and e-mail traffic. The board is charged both with overseeing the executive branch's approach to national security and to make sure that civil liberty concerns are taken into account when the federal government develops and implements law, regulations and policies related to national security.
The 9/11 Commission first proposed the idea of the board as a way to monitor the nation's counterterrorism policies in the wake of the 2001 strikes on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In August 2007 Congress enacted legislation to strengthen the five-member body, by making it independent of the executive branch and providing it with subpoena power, but it languished for years without any members.
Obama didn't offer a full slate of nominees until December 2011; the oversight board only became fully functional in May when the Senate confirmed its chair, David Medine. Medine, who served as associate director of the Federal Trade Commission, has said in recent weeks that the board plans to delve into questions surrounding details of the administration's secret data collection programs that federal contractor Edward Snowden revealed earlier this month.
In an interview earlier this week with PBS television host Charlie Rose, the president said he intended to meet with the PCLOB to "set up and structure a national conversation" about the controversial programs as well as "about the general problem of these big data sets because this is not going to be restricted to government entities."
Obama has taken some steps to provide new details about the National Security Agency and its activities in the face of civil liberties advocates, directing Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to declassify information related to the government's spy programs. The senior administration official, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the information, said these disclosures would "better contextualize these programs, correct misrepresentations, and provide an opportunity for the dialogue he welcomes about the right balance between national security and privacy."
On Thursday, the official added the president asked his assistant for homeland security and counterterrorism, Lisa Monaco, to direct the director of national intelligence, in consultation with the Justice Department, to review Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court opinions and filings relevant to the programs and to determine what additional information the government can "responsibly share about the sensitive and necessarily classified activities undertaken to keep the public safe."
In addition to Medine, the board includes James Dempsey, vice president of public policy for the Center for Democracy and Technology; Rachel Brand, chief counsel for regulatory litigation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and a former U.S. assistant attorney general; Elisabeth Collins Cook, who also served as a U.S. assistant attorney general; and Patricia Wald, former chief judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.