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Lawmakers want stronger privacy board

A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House and Senate wants to strengthen the government’s small privacy watchdog.

Sens. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenGOP senator: Raising corporate taxes is a 'non-starter' Democrats get good news from IRS IRS chief warns of unpaid taxes hitting trillion MORE (D-Ore.) and Tom UdallTom UdallOregon senator takes center stage in Democratic filibuster debate Bipartisan bill seeks to raise fees for public lands drilling OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Haaland courts moderates during tense confirmation hearing | GOP's Westerman looks to take on Democrats on climate change | White House urges passage of House public lands package MORE (D-N.M.), and Reps. Tulsi GabbardTulsi GabbardNew co-chairs named for congressional caucus for millennials Tulsi Gabbard blasts new House rules on gender neutral language as 'height of hypocrisy' A vaccine, a Burrito and more: 7 lighter, memorable moments from 2020 MORE (D-Hawaii) and Trey GowdyTrey GowdyPompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy The Hunter Biden problem won't go away Sunday shows preview: Joe Biden wins the 2020 election MORE (R-S.C.) introduced legislation this week to expand the authority of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) and make its five board seats full-time positions.

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“By giving the board a broader mandate and more authority, Congress can better protect the privacy and civil rights of law-abiding Americans,” Wyden said in a statement.

“Our country must strike the delicate balance between protecting our national security and our civil liberties,” echoed Gowdy. “Many Americans are rightly concerned the pendulum has swung too far away from our civil liberties.”

The PCLOB was created in 2007 following a recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, but has long been considered toothless. While the chairman — who was only seated in 2013, after waiting for Senate confirmation since 2011 — is a full-time position, the four other board members serve part-time.

The board gained some new visibility in recent years, however, following the disclosures of Edward Snowden.

In January of 2014, it issued an explosive report calling the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of U.S. phone records illegal. A federal appeals court agreed that the program was illegal last week, and Congress is in the middle of a debate over how to renew or reform the NSA. 

In addition to making the board seats full-time positions, the new bill — called the Strengthening Privacy, Oversight and Transparency Act — would give the PCLOB the ability to issue subpoenas without having to wait for the Justice Department.

The four lawmakers introduced a version of their bill last year, but it did not move forward.