Civil liberties board to talk privacy definitions

A federal privacy watchdog will get together next month to talk about what privacy means in terms of government counterterrorism programs. 

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) will meet with academics, business executives, government officials and others all day on Nov. 12 for a session titled “Defining privacy.”

“While the Board will address the definition of privacy in the context of government counterterrorism programs, it is also interested in what conceptual interests are involved in the protection of privacy, how the impact of technology has affected privacy, what privacy interests have been identified by government privacy officials, what lessons have been learned in the private sector, and what the best way is for government to address privacy concerns,” it said in a Federal Register notice announcing the meeting.

The five-member PCLOB has been a critic of some government spying programs but has not had as profound an impact as some supporters would have liked.

Its claim that the National Security Agency’s (NSA) bulk collection of phone records in the U.S. was illegal gave fuel to critics looking to kill the program earlier this year. 

More recently, however, the board largely approved of the NSA’s spying on foreigners, which critics claim allows agents to do “backdoor” snooping on Americans. The PCLOB found “no trace” of bad behavior under the foreign surveillance program, though it acknowledged that the NSA is unable to determine how many Americans’ information is “incidentally” collected.