Privacy Advisor

PCLOB Finds a Director, Looks Toward Action

September 4, 2013

By Angelique Carson, CIPP/US

The long-defunct, then fledgling and now finally functioning Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board will take yet another step forward September 9, when Sharon Bradford Franklin comes on board to serve as its executive director.

“For many years, I had been saying how I felt this board could play an important role in evaluating national security programs and working to ensure they include adequate safety for privacy and civil liberties,” Franklin said. “So when this opportunity came up, I really saw that as a way to help make that a reality and help the board be an important oversight entity. And I hope I can play a critical role.”

Sharon Bradford Franklin


Franklin comes to the board from The Constitution Project, where she for years worked diligently and advocated fiercely to the president for the board’s establishment and then to the Senate for confirmation of the full slate of nominees.

Now she faces the same challenges any business aiming to open up shop faces.

“This is a startup agency, it just came into existence,” she said. “Until David Medine was confirmed this past May, no one had authority to hire a staff, and, because it was an independent agency—which is a good thing for its oversight role—the flip side is there were no systems in place to latch on to.”

The board, often referred to as PCLOB, has had a tough time getting off the ground by anyone’s measure. It was created in 2004 following a recommendation from the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States and was made into an independent agency in 2007 but for years remained dormant, lacking the numbers required  to make the five-member board operational. President Barack Obama finalized nominations in December 2011, and the Senate confirmed David Medine as its chairman in May.

Getting the machinery up and running of advising the president and executive branch officials on ensuring privacy and civil liberties are protected and considered when it comes to implementing anti-terrorism laws and regulations will be the first order of business, Franklin said. But they’re not starting completely from scratch. Franklin notes that along with other organizations, she submitted comments on behalf of the Constitution Project to the board last October—which, at that time, still only had four members—when it asked for public suggestions on what to tackle next.

“This is long before it occurred to anyone that I would be working there,” she said, “but, what we listed as first and foremost is that the board should review programs whose very existence is classified–that the public doesn’t even know about.”

The board is required by statute to file reports with the President and with Congress, but is also required to publish unclassified public versions of the reports to the public as much as possible. It will interact with advocates and industry by soliciting their input and feedback, such as it did earlier this year via the Federal Register. It will also reach out to privacy professionals and others via formal and informal avenues, Franklin said. She noted David Medine recently attended a privacy advocates coalition meeting for example.

“The board will want to solicit broad-based communications to conduct broad-based analysis,” she said.

Though the shift in role she’ll make will be significant, Franklin feels well equipped to work in her new position. 

“I’ve certainly been working on these issues from the perspective of civil liberties advocacy for years.”

Before her time at the Constitution Project, Franklin worked as a civil rights attorney and ultimately transitioned to civil liberties. It’s a history that has her well poised to lead the staff of a board tasked with protecting such liberties, and she said her role as executive director of PCLOB will not be purely administrative.

“I know I was hired because I’ve been involved in substantive issues that will come before the board,” she said. “My role will include reaching out to the privacy advocacy community and civil liberties community and staying in close contact with them to get their input on issues that should be before the board for their recommendations. It will also involve reaching out to the intelligence community and relevant federal agencies in a similar role, so we’ll be able to get input for all the affected stakeholders.”

Read More by Angelique Carson:
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