Shortly after the November election, human rights groups joined California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León in introducing a comprehensive bill to protect data collected by the government from being used for mass deportations and religious registries. S.B. 54, known as the California Values Act, also included a sweeping measure requiring all state agencies to reevaluate their privacy policies and to only collect the minimum amount of data they need to offer services.
EFF was an early and strong supporter of the bill, generating more than 750 emails from our supporters. Over subsequent months, the bill was split into multiple pieces of legislation. The ban on using data to create religious registries was moved to S.B. 31, the California Religious Freedom Act, while the general protections morphed into a data privacy bill, S.B. 244, both authored by Sen. Ricardo Lara.
S.B. 54 became an important set of measures designed to deal exclusively with immigrant rights by limiting California law enforcement’s cooperation with U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement and other immigration authorities. These provisions include stopping local law enforcement officials from inquiring about immigration status, keeping people in custody on immigrations “holds,” and using immigrations agents as interpreters—all measures that would help protect our immigrant family members, neighbors, coworkers, and friends from persecution.
The bill originally would also have created a firewall between data collected by California law enforcement and federal immigration authorities. This piece was key to EFF’s support of the bill, but we’ve sadly seen it weakened over the course of the legislative session. First, law enforcement successfully pressured the author to write an exemption for the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System (CLETS), allowing ICE access to large databases of criminal justice information. As we have reported, CLETS is frequently abused by law enforcement and the system has woefully insufficient oversight.
In the latest batch of amendments negotiated by Governor Jerry Brown’s office and de León, the remaining database restrictions were eliminated. A new section was added that would require the California Attorney General to develop “guidance” on ensuring that police limit the availability of their databases, "to the fullest extent practicable and consistent with federal and state law," for purposes of immigration enforcement. Such guidance might be valuable to state and local police agencies that want to avoid sharing their databases with immigration enforcers. But if the legislation passes, state and local police would merely be “encouraged” to adopt the guidance.
EFF long supported this bill because it contained a “database firewall.” But with that measure gone, the nexus with digital issues has largely evaporated. The optional compliance with guidance is not enough to warrant EFF’s continued support, and so we are moving to a neutral position on the legislation. This means we are closing our online email campaign.
EFF does not oppose S.B. 54. In fact, our analysis of the bill identifies many ways in which the bill will protect the rights of the many thousands of immigrants living in our communities. A large coalition of human rights organizations continue to fight for its passage. If you would like to continue to support the current version of S.B. 54, you can visit the ICE Out of CA coalition website or one of the ACLU’s action pages.
EFF continues to support S.B. 31 and S.B. 244, the spin-off bills on religious registries and data privacy, respectively. They would advance digital rights.
EFF is disappointed that the digital rights provision of S.B. 54 were cut from the bill. By asserting a neutral position, we hope to encourage the legislature to enact the “database firewall” next session.