g4ll4is / CC BY-SA 2.0

After years of service, David Medine is resigning as chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB). The board was established after the 9/11 attacks to bolster counterterrorism efforts in the United States and protect Americans’ privacy rights in the face of expanding surveillance.

The Intercept reports:

Medine was scheduled to stay on until January 2018. His last day will now be July 1. …

Medine wrote that he has decided to work to protect low-income consumers and the privacy of their data in developing countries, but he did not name the organization he’ll be joining.

Prior to joining the board, Medine worked on similar issues—privacy and data security—both in government, including at the Federal Trade Commission, and private practice. He could not be reached for comment Tuesday morning.

The PCLOB, a bipartisan five-member panel, can review classified material but only serves in an advisory capacity to the federal government. According to Washington’s Top News, the PCLOB “was long hampered by budgetary and structural problems until Medine’s appointment in 2013. In recent years, supporters in Congress have pressed to expand the board’s authority to include subpoena power, but opposition by other legislators left the organization in its current advisory role.”

Medine’s sudden departure comes during a time of renewed debates on the power of government surveillance and the protection of civil liberties. The battle between the FBI and Apple is one recent example of the government seeking to expand its surveillance powers.

During Medine’s tenure, the PCLOB released a report “strongly condemning” the National Security Administration’s practice of monitoring phone records (a practice made public by Edward Snowden). While the NSA claimed that Section 215 of the Patriot Act justified this practice, the PCLOB concluded that “the operation of the NSA’s bulk telephone records program bears almost no resemblance” to the text of Section 215, and “that the program violates the Electronic Communications Privacy Act.” This NSA surveillance program was shut down in 2015, only to be replaced by a similar program.

President Obama released a statement regarding Medine’s sudden departure, although The Intercept notes that he “gave no indication of when he might nominate a replacement or who it might be.” The Intercept also remarked that although Medine was continually “tugging on the reins of expanding government surveillance power,” the 2014 PCLOB assessment of the NSA “frustrated privacy and civil liberties activists” and failed to answer many of the questions surrounding the phone surveillance program. While it is unclear what prompted Medine to resign so suddenly, his recent Twitter posts reflect a concern over expansion of government surveillance.

—Posted by Emma Niles.

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