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Anchored by Jake Tapper, The Lead airs at 4 p.m. ET on CNN.

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June 21st, 2013
05:36 PM ET

Obama finally meets privacy board

New documents published by The Guardian newspaper, leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, suggest that the British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, has accessed cables carrying the world's phone calls and internet traffic, and shares this information with the American National Security Agency.

The Obama administration had no comment Friday, as law enforcement officials continue their feverish manhunt to locate Snowden.

CNN's Nic Robertson reported Friday that a business partner of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said he has plans in place to charter a plane to fly Snowden to Iceland if the government there agrees to grant him asylum.

"We just want to make it absolutely sure that if we start to transport the guy that he will be safe when he lands, he will not be extradited to U.S.," said Icelandic businessman Olafur Sigurvinsson.

The bigger issue is this massive surveillance program.

A recent Gallup poll found that 53% of Americans disapprove of the NSA surveillance program. A CBS poll shows 58% of Americans disapprove of the government "collecting phone records of ordinary Americans."

It is one of the reasons why the Obama administration is suddenly out there trying to defend the program. President Barack Obama attempted to do so earlier this week by heralding a special panel designed to protect Americans' rights.

"I've set up a Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board made up of independent citizens, including some fierce civil libertarians. I'll be meeting with them and what I want to do is to set up and structure a national conversation," Obama said Monday .

The board did not exist when the NSA spying programs were being implemented, not in any real sense. In fact the president's first meeting with the group ever is happening Friday. President George W. Bush formed a version of the panel in 2004 as part of the executive office, on the recommendation of the 9/11 commission.

Then-Vice President Dick Cheney was awfully proud of that.

"Working with Congress, he has created the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, of which Ted Olson is now a member. The president has made very clear that as we fight for our principles, our first responsibility is to live by them," said Cheney.

Members of the board were not exactly in the loop, they learned about the Bush administration's terrorist surveillance program from The New York Times. And the White House heavily edited a report the board wrote. One member resigned in protest.

Congress in 2007 made the board an independent agency. Former President Bush nominated members in 2008, but the Senate never took any action.

Obama's turn came next, and he dragged his feet. His version of the board wasn't fully confirmed until May 7, about a month before Edward Snowden began spilling the NSA's secrets.

For years, the Privacy Oversight panel had no offices or staff, and the board does not have a website. But now, of course, they are a vital part of the conversation.

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