Senator Tom Udall’s Statement on Recommendations of Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board

U.S. Senator Tom Udall urged support for the recommendations of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, issued as part of a report on the constitutionality of the NSA’s spying program. Among other findings, the board, which was created by Congress, concluded that the NSA’s bulk telephone surveillance program is illegal and ineffective.

In June, Udall led a bipartisan call for an independent review by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board on the impact of the NSA’s spying program on Americans’ constitutional rights and civil liberties.

Udall issued the following statement:

“While I appreciate that the president has taken steps to rein in the NSA’s spying program, I believe he didn’t go far enough to safeguard the constitutional rights of ordinary Americans. Today, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board concluded what many Americans have feared – that the spying program is an unconstitutional intrusion on their privacy rights, yet it has had almost no impact on their safety.

“I agree with the Privacy Board that it makes no sense to keep an unconstitutional program that is nearly ineffective. I also believe this report underscores the need for reform of the secret courts that have made this program and others possible.

“I have sponsored legislation to address two of the board’s most significant recommendations – ending the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records and creating a special advocate to argue in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts on behalf of the rights of the American people. Congress must move forward to implement these recommendations.

“As chairman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, I worked to ensure that the board is fully funded in the appropriations bill passed last week. I will continue to support the board’s important mission to ensure that there is ongoing, independent oversight of the government’s surveillance activities. Their work is far from over, and I look forward to their future reports on other aspects of government surveillance.”

Background:

Udall has fought for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board since he served in the U.S. House of Representatives. While the board was originally designed to provide independent oversight to protect Americans’ civil liberties, it was never fully funded or properly organized – something Udall called for repeatedly as a member of the House of Representatives.

In 2006, Udall, who voted against the Patriot Act in 2001, joined House colleagues in writing to then-President Bush and questioning the lack of funding and implementation of the board in the FY2007 budget proposal and subsequent actions.

Udall also pushed for legislation in the 109th and 110th Congresses to give the Board the full authority the 9/11 Commission originally intended.

This resulted in Congress finally strengthening the board through the Implementing Recommendations of the 9/11 Commission Act of 2007. Among other things, the legislation reconstitutes the board as an independent agency with more responsibilities, requires Senate confirmation of all members and authorizes the Attorney General to exercise subpoena power on behalf of the board.

In May 2009, Udall also wrote to President Obama requesting the administration to appoint board members, saying, “I am urging you to fulfill the board’s reconstituted mission by making the nomination of the panel’s members a priority.” Just over one month ago, the U.S. Senate confirmed David Medine to serve as the first Chairman of the board, allowing it to begin hiring staff and commence oversight work.

In June, Udall sent a bipartisan letter to the board calling for an independent review by the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board on the impact of the NSA’s spying program on Americans’ constitutional rights and civil liberties.

As chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the PCLOB, Udall included $4.1 million in the fiscal year 2014 legislation for the board. These resources, $3.2 million above the fiscal year 2013 enacted level, will enable the PCLOB to hire staff and pursue its mission without delay. The omnibus appropriations bill passed this month included $3.1 million for the board in FY14.