A former chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and four other nominees for the federal Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board fielded questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday.
Former Judge Patricia Wald told the committee that the oversight board, which has been vacant and dormant since 2007, could reassure the public if it is transparent in addressing how the government uses information.
“Who collects it, what is collected, who has access to it once collected, and what are the protections against any abuse, how long it’s retained?” Wald testified. “I would only say it seems to me one of the functions of the board is informing the public and public awareness.”
The oversight board, created after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks as a safeguard against overzealous government intrusion on privacy during the fight against terrorism, was made an independent entity within the White House in 2007.
In the meantime, increased use of computers to store personal information, as well as the war on terrorism and cyberterrorism have spurred Congress and the White House to weigh privacy issues. Congress, for example, is considering various proposals to enhance the Nation’s cybersecurity and these proposals could affect privacy rights.
News reports have illustrated “increased location tracking conducted by local police and the fact that such surveillance is neither limited to terrorist threats, nor, most importantly, subject to a warrant requirement, or judicial review,” committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said at the hearing.
“Smartphones, GPS devices, and other mobile technologies are making it easier for our government to identify and track potential threats,” Leahy said. “These new technologies and increased government surveillance can also imperil our privacy rights and civil liberties.”
Wald served for twenty years on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, from 1979 to 1999, including five years as chief judge. Since that time, she has served in various capacities including as a Judge on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and as a member of the President's Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the U.S. Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction.
The other nominees to the oversight board are:
Rachel Brand, chief counsel for Regulatory Litigation at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s National Chamber Litigation Center; David Medine, a partner in the law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP who focuses on privacy and data security, and former senior advisor to the White House National Economic Council from 2000 to 2001; Elisebeth Collins Cook, is a partner with the law firm of Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr and former assistant attorney general for legal policy with the Justice Department; and James Dempsey, vice president for public policy at the Center for Democracy & Technology, a non-profit group focused on privacy and other issues affecting the future of the Internet.