The House and Senate Intelligence Committees each passed restrictions on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) that would restrict its funding, give it jurisdiction only over the privacy of people in the United States, and force it to report to the agencies that it’s overseeing.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.,  wrote a letter on July 13 expressing his concern about these provisions to Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. The Senate Judiciary Committee has primary jurisdiction over the PCLOB, however since last year the Intelligence Committee has been considering and adopting policies that restrict the PCLOB behind closed doors.

The PCLOB is a bipartisan group that ensures the government’s actions to prevent terrorism don’t infringe on people’s privacy and rights.

This fiscal year, the House and Senate Intelligence Committees each included strict restrictions in the versions of the Intelligence Authorization Act, HR 5077 and S 3017. HR 5077 has passed the House and was referred to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. S 3017 was introduced in the Senate last month.

The House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence “is evidently asserting jurisdiction to authorize the annual spending of the PCLOB,” Leahy wrote. “But the way it has done so appears designed to undercut and possibly eliminate the Board altogether.”

The PCLOB would be allocated $10 million for the 2017 fiscal year, but would require that Congress pass a new authorization for PCLOB funding every year. The only other authorization bill that is subject to this task is the National Defense Authorization Act.

“Intelligence authorization bills are neither the appropriate vehicle for authorizing spending for the PCLOB, nor do they pass every year,” Leahy wrote. “This is completely unacceptable.”

The PCLOB would also only be able to examine programs that threaten the privacy of people in the U.S., despite the fact that many national security programs affect people outside the United States. The PCLOB said the effects of this bill would make it impossible for it to provide advice to the president or committees who directly ask for its input on actions concerning people outside the United States.

“As made clear by the bipartisan Board’s statement opposing this provision, drawing this artificial line is counter-productive and entirely unnecessary,” Leahy wrote.

The PCLOB kept the intelligence community informed of its actions twice a year by providing a report on its major activities, but the House and Senate bills would require that PCLOB report to the intelligence agencies over which it’s reviewing.

“This misguided provision would undermine the independence of PCLOB,” Leahy wrote.

Feinstein, the vice chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, was involved in drafting the Senate’s Intelligence Authorization Act.

“Senator Feinstein is aware of Senator Leahy’s letter and will work with him to address his concerns,” said Tom Mentzer, a spokesman for Feinstein.

Leahy, who is a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, thinks these provisions shouldn’t have been made in a closed setting.

“If Senators on the Senate or House Intelligence Committees wish to make changes to the PCLOB’s authority, including its scope and funding authorization, they are free to introduce legislation, which would then be referred to the Judiciary Committee to consider in a public setting,” Leahy wrote.

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Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch
Morgan Lynch is a Staff Reporter for MeriTalk covering Federal IT and K-12 Education.