January 26, 2017 | By Adam Schwartz

California Databases Must Not Be Used to Target Immigrants and Muslims

Update March 3, 2017: S.B. 54 has undergone amendments that EFF is currently analyzing to determine the next steps.

The California State Legislature is now considering two bills that would build a database firewall to block the flow of personal information from state and local government to federal efforts to deport immigrants and register people based on their religion, ethnicity, or national origin. EFF supports both bills because they would prevent abuse of law enforcement and other government databases to target vulnerable communities.

The strongest way to protect civil liberties is to fight for privacy protections for all Californians, regardless of their national origin or immigration status. Please support S.B. 54 and S.B. 31 today.

   
   

Senate Bill 54, authored by Senate President Pro Tempore Kevin de León, would prevent law enforcement agencies in California from sharing department databases or private information with the federal government for immigration enforcement. It would also reduce the amount of personal information that state agencies collect, use, and share about all Californians. Senate Bill 31, authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara, would prevent local and state government agencies from collecting data, sharing data, or using resources to participate in any program that would create a list or registry of people based on their religion, ethnicity, or national origin—a direct response to Pres. Trump’s call for a Muslim registry. S.B. 31 would also strictly limit law enforcement from collecting information on a person’s religion.

Each bill goes before a legislative committee on January 31.

Organizational supporters of these bills include the ACLU of California, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, the California Immigrant Policy Center, the California Immigrant Youth Justice Alliance, the Immigrant Legal Resource Center, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network.

The Perils of Database Abuse of Immigrants and Muslims

Governments gather all manner of personal information from members of the public, often for seemingly benevolent purposes, and store it in databases. All too often, governments proceed to reuse that information in a manner that hurts these same people. Vulnerable subpopulations suffer most frequently from such database abuse.

The original sin at the dawn of our nation’s database era is the shameful use of stored personal information to round up and intern Japanese Americans during World War II. Specifically, the U.S. Census Bureau shared its supposedly confidential data about the names and addresses of Japanese Americans with the military officials in charge of internment. While the government initially gathered this information for a legitimate purpose, the government wrongfully diverted it to an illegitimate purpose.

Today, many immigrants and their allies fear that the Trump administration will abuse government databases to implement his plan to rapidly deport three million people. A ripe target is the federal database for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. Under DACA, some 750,000 undocumented immigrants who entered the United States as minors (often called “Dreamers”) gave their personal information to the federal government in exchange for deferred action from deportation. Now they fear the federal government will reuse the DACA database to find and deport them. Scores of civil rights organizations oppose such database abuse.

Pres. Trump also called for a Muslim registry. Such a database would be illegitimate and illegal at its inception. The Trump administration reportedly is considering the reinstatement of the infamous Bush-era NSEERS database of Muslim immigrants. Civil rights advocates oppose this registry, too.

State and local governments in California possess myriad databases that the Trump administration might try to use to locate and deport immigrants and to register Muslims. Many government agencies (including police, human services, and universities) gather and store a host of personal information (including names, addresses, and social security numbers) from vast numbers of people. Federal data miners could abuse these state and local databases to pursue immigrants and Muslims.

How S.B. 54 and S.B. 31 Would Build a Database Firewall

The time is now to batten down the hatches to prepare for the coming storm.

S.B. 54 would prohibit California law enforcement agencies (including state, local, and school police) from making their databases available to any entity for purposes of immigration enforcement. This ban includes databases maintained for agencies by private vendors. Any entity that obtains database access would be required to certify in writing that they will not use the database for immigration enforcement.

S.B. 54 would also limit how California police agencies gather and share personal information. Specifically, agencies would be barred from collecting information about people’s immigration status. They also would be barred from providing nonpublic personal information (such as home or work address) for immigration enforcement purposes. These rules would advance a data privacy best practice: government agencies should not collect or share personal information except to the extent strictly necessary to do their jobs.

Of equal importance, S.B. 54 would require every state agency in California (not just police) to overhaul their confidentiality policies and identify necessary changes to ensure  they do not collect any more personal information than they need to perform their duties or use or disclose it for any other purposes. Agencies would have six months to generate this review, and the California Attorney General would have three months to draw up model policies for contracts with private vendors. This bill would have an immediate effect on protecting immigrants and Muslims, and would also protect the privacy of all Californians.

S.B. 31, in turn, would prohibit all of California’s state and local agencies from providing personal information from their databases to the federal government for purposes of creating or enforcing a list, registry, or database based on religion, ethnicity, or national origin. Law enforcement also would be barred from collecting information on an individual’s religious beliefs or practices if there isn’t a clear nexus with a criminal investigation. Law enforcement agencies would still be allowed to collect religious information to provide special accommodations, such as religiously appropriate meals in a corrections facility.

In sum, these two bills would block federal efforts to commandeer state and local databases for purposes of deporting immigrants and registering Muslims. While EFF suggested ways to build the California database firewall even higher, we fully endorse the current bill as-is.

Next Steps

For many years, EFF has fought government use of cutting-edge technology to target immigrants. Among other things, we oppose biometric surveillance of immigrant communities, rapid DNA analyzers as a tool of immigration enforcement, and social media monitoring of citizenship applicants and foreign visitors. Likewise, we resist street-level surveillance, such as the broken CalGang database, which all too often has an unfair disparate impact against immigrant communities, as well racial, ethnic, and religious minorities.

In the wake of the Trump inauguration, EFF has redoubled its opposition to high-tech government attacks on our immigrant and Muslim friends and neighbors. The first step is to block database abuse by passing both of these bills.

Please join the coalition to protect our data and tell your lawmakers to support S.B. 54 and S.B. 31 today.


   

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