Protecting Our Values and Cyberspace Together

I am pleased to share President Obama’s announcement of the intent to nominate three eminent members to serve on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (the “Board”).  Independently established by Congress, the Board’s function is to analyze and review the actions of the executive branch and ensure that concerns with respect to privacy and civil liberties are appropriately considered in the implementation of laws, regulations, and executive branch policies related to counter-terrorism.  

In short, the Board has an important role in safeguarding Americans’ privacy and civil liberties as we work to improve the nation’s cybersecurity. To improve cybersecurity, we need to develop better information sharing capabilities about cyber threats within the government and with the private sector. Yet such information sharing must be conducted with strict regard to minimizing any impact on privacy and civil liberties. For these reasons, the Board has a key part in oversight of the customized set of privacy and civil liberties protections designed into the Administration’s cybersecurity legislative proposal submitted to Congress this past May. Specifically, the Board is charged with reporting to Congress and the President its assessment of the privacy and civil liberties impact of the government’s activities and recommending improvements to or modifications of the law to address privacy and civil liberties concerns. The Administration firmly believes that both Board oversight and affirmative requirements for privacy policies and procedures are essential components of any legislation. 

Once these nominations are confirmed, the Board can begin its vital work. Thus, we encourage Congress to act swiftly. As the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States rightly stated, "The choice between security and liberty is a false choice…Our history has shown us that insecurity threatens liberty. Yet, if our liberties are curtailed, we lose the values that we are struggling to defend." We anticipate initiation of the Board as a critical requirement for enhancing our efforts to safeguard our critical infrastructure and government networks as well as protect the American people from identity theft and other cyber crimes, while simultaneously preserving their privacy and civil liberties. We look forward to continued engagement with Congressional leaders in a bipartisan, bicameral way to enact cybersecurity legislation as swiftly as possible that meets all of these goals.  

Howard A. Schmidt is the Cybersecurity Coordinator and Special Assistant to the President
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