In response to a Freedom of Information Act request from New York Times reporter Charlie Savage, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) has declassified its implementation report on Presidential Policy Directive 28: Signals Intelligence Activities (PPD-28). PPD-28 was signed by President Obama in January of 2014 and provides principles guiding “why, whether, when, and how the United States conducts signals intelligence activities.” The report was sent to Congress in early 2017.
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President Trump recently nominated Travis LeBlanc and Aditya Bamzai as members of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB), placing a full set of five nominees before the Senate and creating the possibility that the inquorate body could soon be revived. (A quorum requires three members; since early 2017, the body’s only member has been Elisabeth Collins.) This would be a welcome change.
There is that classic joke about the difference between an optimist and a pessimist—an experiment in which two children are put in a room to play. The pessimist enters a room full of toys and sits there wailing disconsolately, saying, “Something is going to break.” The optimist enters a room piled high with horse manure and begins rummaging through it enthusiastically, because, “With all this shit, I know there’s got to be a pony somewhere!”
On Friday, the White House announced that the President intends to nominate Adam Klein to be a Member and the Chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board. If confirmed, Adam will join Beth Collins, who is currently the only member of the Board.
There are many tools available to a president who seeks to scale back the scope and authority of an administrative agency. He can push to cut the agency's budget. He can embrace legal theories and litigation strategies that interpret the agency's statutory authority narrowly. He can try to appoint leadership that shares his reductionist agenda (and he can try to remove incumbent leaders who don't). And at the extreme, he might seek legislation formally shrinking the agency's authority or even abolishing the agency outright.