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Privacy advocates push for investigation, oversight of Bush wiretapping

Raw Story
Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Privacy advocates are strenuously pushing an oversight board to look into the White House's infamous wiretapping program, National Journal's Technology Daily is reporting.

"Civil liberties watchdogs on Tuesday urged a federal advisory committee to aggressively investigate the Bush administration's program of wiretapping without warrants, arguing that oversight is only effective when the truth prevails and not deference to those in power," writes Andrew Noyes. An ACLU lobbyist told Noyes that "the group's first order of business should be to review how the National Security Agency and other federal agencies target innocent citizens or other lawful residents with anti-terrorism efforts."

The committee, called the White House Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, was set up in 2004 and has been a target of criticism "since its inception," notes Noyes. It has been accused of "being a dependent part of the very branch of government it is supposed to oversee" and has only once--out of 16 meetings--convened a public forum.

The ACLU is urging the committee "to hold public hearings and publish reports that pertain to key privacy and civil liberties issues raised by new anti-terrorism efforts," Noyes reports.

The chairperson of another privacy watchdog said that the recent revelation of the government's Automated Targeting System indicates that its use of "watch lists" is "even more expansive than we had imagined," which in turn is prompting calls for White House oversight.

Excerpts from the subscription-only article follow...

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[Caroline Fredrickson, the American Civil Liberties Union's top lobbyist] urged the board to hold public hearings and publish reports that pertain to key privacy and civil liberties issues raised by new anti-terrorism efforts, and asked the members to "candidly advise the president" on the legality and propriety of permitting government agencies to contract with private companies for eavesdropping and mining databases for information.

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American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene said watch lists must not be used as "black lists" to prevent certain people from being considered for jobs or government benefits. The lists should only be utilized in situations where "decisions must be made quickly and grave consequences would follow from failure to screen out a listed person."

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Frederickson called the panel's public forum a welcome first step but said it was long overdue. "Our democracy is at risk when unprecedented threats to privacy and civil liberties undertaken in the name of the war on terror go unanswered and unchecked."

She added, "Clearly you've been fiddling while Rome burns."

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