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ALA off target in giving Madison Award to Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies

I’m in 2 minds about this year’s James Madison Award given annually by the American Library Association to “honor individuals or groups who have championed, protected and promoted public access to government information and the public’s right to know at the national level.” Last year’s award was given to computer programer and internet activist [[Aaron Swartz]], “an outspoken advocate for public participation in government and unrestricted access to peer-reviewed scholarly articles.” It was announced yesterday that the Obama administration’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies had received the award.

While I can appreciate that the Obama administration would set up this group to look into US security and surveillance programs, I believe it premature to give this group the Madison award before any of their suggested reforms have been put in place or analyzed for their efficacy at protecting the public’s privacy and 4th amendment rights. Additionally, I find it highly questionable to honor the Obama administration after it has been repeatedly shown to be hypocritical in terms of surveillance, privacy, and government transparency in general [update 2:45PM: case in point, this recent AP news article “Obama Administration Cites ‘National Security’ More Than Ever To Censor, Deny Records”].

Instead, this year’s award ought to have gone to whistleblower Edward Snowden who’s leaks of NSA documents brought to light the NSA’s systematic and unconstitutional surveillance programs and forced the Obama administration to set up the Review Group in the first place — lipstick on a pig?! — if for nothing else to have some positive PR. ALA was already on record in support of needs for reforms of US intelligence community with its Resolution on the Need for Reforms for the Intelligence Community to Support Privacy, Open Government, Government Transparency, and Accountability (Council Document 20.4) — which ironically replaced the Resolution in Support of Whistleblower Edward Snowden a day after that resolution passed and was then rescinded by ALA Council! — so they should have taken this opportunity to do the right thing and honor Mr Snowden with the Madison award.

Today, the American Library Association awarded President Barack Obama’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies the 2014 James Madison Award during the 16th Annual Freedom of Information Day in Washington, D.C. The Presidential Review Group received the award for calling for dozens of urgent and practical reforms to the National Security Agency’s unlawful surveillance programs.

Calling on the government to enhance public trust, the President’s Review Group produced a thoughtful report (PDF) with a blueprint showing how the government can reaffirm its commitment to privacy and civil liberties—all without compromising national security. In the report, the Review Group emphasized the need for transparency and effective oversight, and made recommendations intended to protect U.S. national security and advance foreign policy. Additionally, the Review Group asked the U.S. government to demonstrate the validity of claims that secrecy is necessary.

Members of the Review Group include Richard Clarke, former national security official under presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; Michael Morell, former deputy director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Geoffrey Stone, law professor at the University of Chicago Law School; Cass Sunstein, professor at Harvard University and Peter Swire, professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

via NSA oversight group receives American Library Association award.

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