Problem: many procedural checks are not enforced

I am dismayed when I see our government violating our civil liberties, or otherwise ignoring procedural checks, and even more dismayed when nothing is done about it. The problem is that it is difficult for ordinary citizens to hold the government accountable for violating procedure. In order to take the government to court, a citizen must usually have "standing", a legal concept. One way in which a citizen can often fail to have standing is if a citizen can't show a specific harm to themselves resulting from the illegal government action. But often violations of procedure have vague, diffuse (yet very large) long-term harms, rather than a provable harm to a specific individual. Other times, in the case when the violation of procedure took the form of surveillance, the citizen does not have access to the information of who specifically was surveilled, and so even when s/he was specifically targetted, s/he cannot prove it. And other times, the citizen has standing, yet they are prohibited from taking the government to court for national security reasons.

The courts have the authority to force the government to obey procedure, but they are not permitted to act unless a case is brought by an entity with standing, and even then sometimes they do not act due to fears that the prosecution of the case would reveal secret information that would hurt national security.

In theory, congress has the power to keep the executive branch in check in these situations. But in fact, congress almost never takes action in such situations, because in order to do so would require months of wrangling and jumping over procedural hurdles, and because invariably a large proportion of the public will support the government's side in any case. If there's one thing the public doesn't like, it's watching congress fight itself for months at a time over some abtruse issue. Doing this would make the incumbents less likely to win future elections, therefore they don't do it. Therefore, political realities prevent the only entity that is empowered to rein in the government in these situations from doing so.

Problem: secrecy

A related problem is secrecy. Often we are told that the government is making some controversial decision on the basis of secret information, and assured that we would agree if only we could know what they know. Often, we learn that some information was kept secret ostensibly on the basis of national security, but actually because its disclosure would show that the government had done something wrong.

In addition to these obvious harms, secrecy contributes to the long-term problem of conspiracy theorizing; without sufficient information to prove that the "official story" is correct, various people begin to believe various alternative hypotheses, leading to diverging worldviews between different factions, views which fundamentally contradict each other. This makes it hard for people to even discuss things with other factions, much less agree on what should be done. In other words, even if the official story is correct, even if the government isn't hiding anything bad, even if we really would agree with the government if we knew what they knew, still secrecy has a large cost in terms of causing unnecessary dissent and conflict between factions.

Despite these costs, there are few entities in the current system with incentives to prevent unnecessary secrecy. Even congresspeople who are briefed on classified matters are not allowed to decide that what they just heard should be declassified. Only the president can do that. And the president rarely has any incentive to do so.

Solution: tribunes

I propose the creation of a new branch of government with a watchdog function. I call it, "the office of the tribune". A tribune would be a combination of special prosecutor and investigative journalist. The tribune would only have three powers:

(1) Investigate government. Like the president, the tribune automatically has the highest possible security clearance, and is empowered to demand any information from any government agency or official. Their requests for information cannot be denied for any reason.

(2) Declassify information. Like the president, the tribune has the power to unilaterally declassify information.

(3) Prosecute. The tribune has the standing to take the government to court over any issue relating to infringement of rights, corruption, or a violation of procedure.

There would only be one or a handful of tribunes, and it would be a high-profile, directly elected position. Like a prosecutor or investigative journalist, a tribune would acquire repute by exposing and reining in government; the office of tribune is fundamentally adversarial to the government. The tribune is NOT permitted to take individual citizens to court (unless they are bribing a government official or something similar), or to prosecute citizens for ordinary laws such as theft, murder, etc. Since the only thing that a tribune is empowered to do is to rein in government, I expect that often, people would run for the office of tribune on a campaign platform that the government needs to be reined in more. In this way, a position would be created that is both empowered to rein in government power and secrecy, and also has an incentive to do so.