Lawmakers seek new powers for privacy board

Lawmakers in both chambers banded together Tuesday to propose giving new powers to a federal watchdog that guards people’s privacy and civil liberties.

The Strengthening Privacy, Oversight and Transparency (SPOT) Act would expand the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) to cover issues beyond its current purview of counterterrorism. It would also make the board's five members full-time and allow them to issue subpoenas without having to go through the Justice Department.

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Sen. Ron WydenRonald (Ron) Lee WydenPharma lobby eyes parliamentarian Hillicon Valley — Presented by Connected Commerce Council — Senate grills Instagram chief Major utilities agree to stop sharing data with ICE MORE (D-Ore.), one of the leaders of the new effort, said in a statement that the bill gives the board “the teeth it needs to fulfill its mandate of ensuring the government’s efforts to protect citizens at home and abroad also protect Americans’ privacy and civil liberties.”

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Trey GowdyTrey GowdyTrey Gowdy sets goal of avoiding ideological echo chamber with Fox News show Fox News signs Trey Gowdy, Dan Bongino for new shows Pompeo rebukes Biden's new foreign policy MORE (R-S.C.) are the bill’s other co-sponsors.

“Our country must strike the delicate balance between protecting our national security and our civil liberties. Many Americans are rightly concerned the pendulum has swung too far away from our civil liberties,” Gowdy said in a statement. “This bill will help ensure our intelligence agencies safeguard the American people’s civil liberties while protecting our national security.”

The PCLOB is an independent watchdog that was established after a recommendation from the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report to check the government’s surging anti-terror efforts, but long existed without members, staff or an office.

In the wake of last summer’s revelations from Edward Snowden, however, the board has gained new prominence among national security experts, even though it can only issue recommendations and analysis.

This year, the PCLOB called the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of Americans’ phone records illegal, after the Obama administration had announced plans to end it as it currently exists.  

More recently, the board issued a less critical analysis of the NSA’s collection of foreigners’ communications, which disappointed many privacy advocates.