May 14, 2015

Udall Bill Would Strengthen Ability of Privacy Oversight Board to Protect Americans' Constitutional Rights

WASHINGTON - In advance of a Senate debate on whether to reauthorize several expiring provisions of the Patriot Act, U.S. Senator Tom Udall joined U.S. Reps. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) and Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.), and U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) to reintroduce their bipartisan, bicameral bill to strengthen the independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. The bill would significantly improve the oversight and accountability of the nation's intelligence community to protect Americans' constitutional rights.

The Strengthening Privacy, Oversight, and Transparency Act or SPOT Act, would expand the role of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), an independent government watchdog agency, and give the board greater authorities to carry out its function of balancing the government's national security and counterterrorism activities with the need to protect the privacy rights of law-abiding Americans.

"We absolutely must prevent future terrorist attacks, but we can do that without weakening the constitutional rights that make our nation great," said Udall, who voted against the Patriot Act in 2001 and opposes reauthorization of the expiring provisions without significant reforms. "A vigorous watchdog with real authority over the intelligence agencies will help us protect our security and our constitution - that is what the SPOT Act would provide."

Udall advocated for the creation of the PCLOB and has long pushed for increased resources and authority for the board. In a speech earlier today, Udall said Congress should consider the SPOT Act as it debates reforms to the Patriot Act provisions, which expire at the end of the month. The expiring provisions include Section 215, which is being used to justify the bulk collection of Americans' telephone records. A PCLOB investigation of the dragnet surveillance program last year determined that it is unconstitutional.

"The privacy board's independent evaluation of Section 215 demonstrates why it is so crucial - and the fact that 215 is still in effect shows why the American people need the board to have more resources to protect their privacy and constitutional liberties," Udall said.

The SPOT Act also allows the PCLOB to issue subpoenas without having to wait for the Justice Department to issue them, and makes the board members full-time positions.

The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board is an independent oversight body that was established in 2007 as part of Congress' measures to implement the recommendations of the 9/11 Commission. The commission called for an executive branch board that would ensure that government efforts to protect American security also protect Americans' privacy and civil liberties. More recently, a number of outside experts, including the President's own surveillance Review Group, have recommended that the Board's mandate and authorities be expanded and clarified.