Roosevelt Institute | Cornell University

Changing Role of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board

By Arielle TanninPublished March 2, 2016

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The job of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is, as its name implies, to advise the president on privacy and civil liberties implications of programs to combat terrorism. On February 12th, PCLOB Chairman David Medine appointed Steve Bellovin, a Columbia University Computer Science Professor, as the agency's first Technology Scholar. As a self-proclaimed privacy advocate, Bellovin's addition to the PCLOB may sway the direction of information policy in America
By Arielle Tannin, 3/02/16

On February 12th, Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board Chairman David Medine appointed Steve Bellovin, a Columbia University Computer Science Professor, as the agency's first Technology Scholar. Bellovin is a nationally recognized expert in technology and network security and has authored several papers on government surveillance. Prior to being appointed to the PCLOB, he was a chief technologist with the Federal Trade Commission and a member of the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Advisory Committee. Bellovin stated that his role on the board will involve evaluating and creating methods accomplish the United States' government's intelligence goals while preserving privacy and civil liberties. This is a departure from the previous function of the PCLOB which was primarily to evaluate the implications of already decided upon policies by the NSA.
 
The job of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is, as its name implies, to advise the president on privacy and civil liberties implications of programs to combat terrorism. The PCLOB was created by Congress in 2004 upon recommendation of the 9/11 Commission to examine the implications of proposed laws and policies to fight against the war on terror. One prominent example is evaluating the legitimacy of actions committed under the justification of the Patriot Act. Its other functions include recommending ways to minimize the privacy and civil liberties concerns brought about by increased cybersecurity measures and continually reviewing anti-terrorism policies to insure they cohere with privacy regulations.
 
Until now, this group had mainly consisted of lawyers, only one of whom had a civil liberties background. This made the board's main focus overseeing rather than advising the executive branch on civil liberties implications of cybersecurity. Adding Bellovin as a Technology Scholar poses the possibility of enacting policies that are stricter on the government overstepping their bounds in terms of privacy infringement. Bellovin said in an interview with WIRED magazine that, "I don't think they can make policy decisions without understanding what the technology actually enables, or for that matter, prevents. I understand enough about the law and policy to be able to translate, if you will, things into their terms." In short, Bellovin views his role as a bridge between policy minded lawyers and technically minded information scientists.
 
As a self-proclaimed privacy advocate, Bellovin's addition to the PCLOB may sway the direction of information policy in America. His addition will likely increase the PCLOB's focus on making policy suggestions as opposed to evaluating proposals, paving the way for increased adherence to the protection of personal civil liberties in future anti-terrorism legislation.