About the Office

Frequently Answered Questions

Below are some questions commonly asked of the DoD Civil Liberties Office.


So what are civil liberties, anyway?

Civil liberties are fundamental rights and freedoms protected by the Constitution. Many civil liberties are listed in the first ten amendments to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights.

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Okay, but can you give me an example of a civil liberty?

The First Amendment freedoms of speech, assembly, press, and religion are examples of civil liberties that we exercise frequently in our daily lives.

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What is the difference between civil liberties and civil rights?

Civil liberties protect people from undue government interference or action. Civil rights, on the other hand, protect people from discrimination. It is DoD policy to prohibit discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, national origin, mental or physical disability, or age.

Although civil liberties and civil rights are different, they can overlap, especially with issues involving religion and free speech. For example, a civil rights complaint involving religious discrimination in the workplace could also involve the First Amendment right of freedom of religion if an employee was wrongly prevented from exercising his or her religion.

For information on how to report an alleged civil rights violation, visit EEO, the Equal Employment Opportunity division of the DoD Office of the Inspector General. If you are a service member, contact a Military Equal Opportunity (MEO) Office.

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Do service members have civil liberties?

Yes. Civil liberties protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of service members. However, service members must exercise their civil liberties in a manner consistent with good order and discipline. This means a military commander may lawfully limit the exercise of civil liberties, such as free speech, for service members. For example, there are restrictions on service members' partisan political activities.

Active duty service members can:

  • Vote
  • Contribute to political campaigns
  • Display political bumper stickers on their personal vehicles

Active duty service members cannot:

  • Speak at a partisan gathering or participate in any radio or tv programs or organized blog discussions that advocate for or against a political party, candidate, or cause
  • Attend political events as an official representative of the Armed Forces unless authorized by the Service Secretary concerned
  • Seek nomination or candidacy for civil office (with limited exceptions)

Click here to view some of the DoD Issuances that provide guidance for how service members may exercise their civil liberties.

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Do DoD civilian employees have civil liberties?

Yes. Civil liberties protect the fundamental rights and freedoms of DoD civilian employees, but there are limitations on how they can exercise their civil liberties. For example, there are restrictions on federal employees' partisan political activities.

DoD civilian employees can:

  • Vote
  • Contribute to political campaigns
  • Display political bumper stickers on their personal vehicles
DoD civilian employees cannot:
  • Participate in any campaign activities while on duty or in a federal building
  • Host a fundraiser for a partisan candidate
  • Run for public office in a partisan election
To find out more about these restrictions, click here

Further restrictions apply to members of the Senior Executive Service (SES), intelligence community employees, and those appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate..

Employees are advised to contact their component ethics programs for guidance and to ask questions they may have regarding their partisan political activities.

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Why was the DoD Civil Liberties Program created?

The 9/11 Commission saw the need to make sure that privacy and civil liberties are adequately protected, and included recommendations for doing so in its report. Congress put these recommendations into law, which requires DoD and seven other federal agencies to properly safeguard privacy and civil liberties.

In order to comply with the law, DoD's Civil Liberties Officer established the DoD Civil Liberties Program and combined it with the longstanding DoD Privacy Program to create the Defense Privacy and Civil Liberties Division (DPCLD). You can check out the formal policy for the DoD Civil Liberties Program here.

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So who is the DoD Civil Liberties Officer?

The law requires the Secretary of Defense to designate one senior officer as the principal advisor to assist the Secretary in appropriately considering privacy and civil liberties. At DoD, this person is the Deputy Chief Management Officer.

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And what are the duties of DoD's Civil Liberties Officer?

The duties of the DoD Civil Liberties Officer are to:

  1. Assist the Secretary when proposing, developing, or implementing laws, regulations, policies, procedures, or guidelines;
  2. Periodically investigate and review policies, procedures, guidelines, and related laws and their implementation to ensure that the Department is adequately considering civil liberties in its actions;
  3. Ensure that DoD has adequate procedures to receive, investigate, respond to, and redress complaints from individuals who allege that DoD has violated their civil liberties; and
  4. Submit reports to Congress about the DoD Civil Liberties Program.

DPCLD supports the DoD Civil Liberties Officer, the Deputy Chief Management Officer,  in carrying out these duties.

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How do I submit a complaint alleging a violation of my civil liberties?

There are two ways you can submit your complaint:

  1. To the appropriate DoD component.

    • To submit a complaint directly to the DoD component where the alleged violation took place, contact that component's Civil Liberties Point Of Contact (POC) – the person who is responsible for implementing the civil liberties program within that component.

    • Don't know your component POC? Ask DPCLD.

  2. To DPCLD:

    • To submit a complaint to DPCLD, please follow the guidelines described in DPCLD's "How to Report a Privacy or Civil Liberties Violation" instructions. 

    • These guidelines list the information that you should include in your complaint, and provide general information about the civil liberties complaint process.

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Can anyone submit a civil liberties complaint, or do I have to be a DoD employee or service member to submit one?

Anyone may submit a complaint. It is DoD policy to protect the privacy and civil liberties of DoD employees, service members, and the public to the greatest extent possible, consistent with its operational requirements.

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Does the DoD Civil Liberties Program address actions of reprisal or retaliation?

Yes. The governing law specifically provides that no actions of reprisal or threats of reprisal shall be taken by any federal employee against individuals who make complaints or disclose information that indicates a possible violation of privacy protections or civil liberties in the administration of the programs and operations of the Federal Government, unless the complaint was made or the information was disclosed with the knowledge that it was false or with willful disregard for its truth or falsity.

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Can you tell me what is in the privacy and civil liberties reports that DPCLD prepares?

Sure! The reports combine data on both privacy and civil liberties issues throughout DoD. There are 3 sections in the report:

  1. Number and Types of Reviews Undertaken: This section refers to the number of DoD reviews of privacy related material including Privacy Act Statements, Computer Matching Agreements, and Privacy Act Systems of Records Notices (SORNS).

  2. Type of Advice Provided and the Response to Advice: This section includes the number of times advice was provided by the DoD components in the form of written policies or guidance on privacy and civil liberties issues. It also includes the number of responses to that advice. Responses are specific actions taken by a DoD component to implement the advice provided, such as training or new procedures.

  3. Nature, Number, and Disposition of Complaints Received: This section includes the number of privacy and civil liberties complaints received by the components, categorized by type (e.g., First Amendment, Second Amendment, etc.), and the disposition or outcome of those complaints. The possible outcomes are "pending," which means the complaint is still being reviewed, and "responsive action taken," which means that an action was taken to resolve the complaint.
Click here to view the reports!

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Do DoD's privacy and civil liberties reports include personal or sensitive information?

No. DoD's reports do not include any personal information such as name, social security number, or address. Sensitive and classified information is also excluded from reports. The law only requires DoD to report the number, nature, and outcome of all complaints received.

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Who receives the privacy and civil liberties reports?

The reports are submitted to:

  1. Congress:
  2. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB)
  3. The general public: The law requires that the reports are available to the public to the greatest extent possible that is consistent with the protection of classified information. Therefore, DPCLD posts the reports on its website. To view copies of past civil liberties reports submitted by DPCLD, click here.

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Okay, but what is the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB)?

Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) is an independent agency within the executive branch of government. The board has four members and one chairman, each appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The purpose of the board is to review the actions the executive branch takes to protect the Nation from terrorism and to make sure that the need for those actions is balanced with the need to protect privacy and civil liberties. The board also makes sure that civil liberties concerns are appropriately considered in the development and implementation of laws, regulations, and policies related to efforts to protect the nation against terrorism. Click here to read the law that created the PCLOB.

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