THERE’S A LITTLE-KNOWN federal agency whose job is to ensure U.S. spy agencies protect privacy and other civil liberties even as they work to defeat terrorists and criminals, and to blow the whistle when that doesn’t happen. But the agency, known as the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, is down to just a single voting member — which means it has been stripped of nearly all its powers, according to emails obtained by The Intercept.
The board was created by Congress in 2004, at the recommendation of the 9/11 Commission, to help the executive branch balance national security priorities with individual rights. After Bush administration officials heavily edited PCLOB’s first report, one member resigned, and Congress in 2007 turned it into an independent agency and expanded its writ to include oversight of congressional action. Still, the board remained obscure; some members of Congress seemed unaware of its existence even as documents from NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden produced more privacy scandals.