Three Years Later, Obama Picks Privacy Police

Almost three years after taking office on a platform of government openness, President Obama has gotten around to completing nominations for an empty board that is supposed to expose counterterrorism injustices.

The five nominees still face Senate confirmation. The congressionally-established Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, a byproduct of post 9/11 surveillance, has been defunct since 2008, when a charter for the previous panel ended. Efforts to revive the board under President Bush died in the Senate amid partisan politics. Then, Obama became president in 2009 and said it was high time to "accelerate the selection process for its board members," but shied away from repeated calls by public interest groups to follow through.

All the while, the Obama administration has forged ahead with roving wiretaps of Americans, facial recognition searches and cell phone tracking, civil liberties advocates have noted.

Exactly a year ago, Obama attempted to get the ball rolling by nominating two individuals, Elisebeth Collins Cook, a constitutional rights attorney at WilmerHale LLP, and James X. Dempsey, a leader of the Center for Democracy and Technology. On Thursday, he picked to fill up the rest of the board Rachel L. Brand, regulatory litigation chief counsel for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; David Medine, a regulatory compliance attorney also at WilmerHale; and Patricia M. Wald, former U.S. Court of Appeals judge for D.C.

Now that Obama has done his part, activists and House Democrats say they are hoping the Senate will get moving to install the privacy police.