Federal agencies fail to meet civil liberty mandates

Key Federal agencies have failed to meet legal requirements to protect the civil liberties of Americans and an oversight board charged with enforcing the mandates hasn’t met since 2006, USA Today reports.

Flagged by the study were the Departments of Defense, State and Health and Human Services. All have failed to comply with a 2007 law that requires them to appoint civil liberties protection officers and provide Congress with information showing their programs don’t undermine the public’s rights, civil liberties and privacy.

The law was passed by Congress in 2007 but the administration of former President George W. Bush showed little interest in forcing the agencies to comply.

Reports Peter Eisler of USA Today:

An independent Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board set up to monitor the departments hasn’t met publicly since 2006; it no longer has members.

Government missteps such as putting innocent people on terrorist watch lists and misusing administrative warrants, known as national security letters, "might have been dealt with much sooner if we had … cops on the beat to make sure there are standards that are being upheld," says Caroline Fredrickson, legislative director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).

The lack of civil liberties officers at State and Health and Human Services is troubling because the departments hold passport and medical records, says James Dempsey, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology. "Security of that information is very important," he says, and these officers should monitor how it’s used and shared.

The Pentagon also has sparked concerns. Its Counterintelligence Field Activity office was criticized by the ACLU for wrongly tracking anti-war groups — a charge confirmed by the Pentagon in 2006.