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Oversight panel gets briefing

After a delay of more than a year, a government board appointed to guard Americans' privacy and civil liberties during the war on terror has been told the inner workings of the government's electronic eavesdropping program.

Members say they were impressed by the protections.

The briefing for the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board had been delayed because President Bush was concerned about widening the circle of people who knew the details of the secret program.

The board, created by Congress but appointed by Bush, focused on other classified work since it was named in spring 2005, but it continued to press for a briefing by the National Security Agency.

A breakthrough was reached in recent days and the five members were briefed by senior officials last week.

Board members said they were impressed by the safeguards the government has built into the NSA's monitoring of phone calls and computer transmissions.

"If the American public, especially civil libertarians like myself, could be more informed about how careful the government is to protect our privacy while still protecting us from attacks, we'd be more reassured," said Lanny Davis, a White House lawyer during the Clinton administration who is the board's lone liberal Democrat.

Davis said he believes the administration could tell the public more without compromising national security.

The board members can't discuss specific protections or tactics because the NSA program remains classified.