San Francisco - Responding to years of investigations and pressure from the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), the California Attorney General's Office has overhauled and improved its oversight of law enforcement access to a computer network containing the sensitive personal data of millions of state residents, which police abused 143 times in 2017.
The new policies and data will be presented at a regular oversight meeting on Thursday, June 21, 2018 at the Folsom City Council Chambers.
EFF has been investigating abuse of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunication System (CLETS)—the computer network that connects criminal record and DMV data with local and federal agencies across the state—since 2015. Law enforcement personnel access this data more than 2.8 million times daily.
EFF’s research found that misuse of this system was rampant. Examples include officers accessing confidential data for domestic disputes and running background checks on online dates. One particularly egregious case involved an officer who allegedly planned to hand sensitive information on witnesses to the family member of a convicted murderer.
Not only did the Attorney General’s CLETS Advisory Committee fail to hold these agencies accountable, in many cases it failed to enforce requirements that agencies disclose misuse investigations at all. As a result, the Attorney General has not maintained reliable data on misuse.
Earlier this month, the Attorney General’s office began implementing several changes to their oversight of law enforcement agencies, including stiffer penalties when agencies fail to report misuse. The agency also directed a team to bring several hundred delinquent agencies into compliance with misuse disclosure requirements.
“Accountability starts with good data, and so it’s a great start for the Attorney General’s office to give better instructions to law enforcement agencies and to use the enforcement mechanism to ensure disclosure of database abuse,” EFF Senior Investigative Researcher Dave Maass said. “But this should only be the first step. We will be watching closely to see if the Attorney General actually follows through on his threats to sanction agencies who sweep CLETS abuse under the carpet.”
EFF hopes that accurate data on misuse of CLETS will lead to investigations and accountability for any agency that fails to adequately protect people’s privacy. In addition, EFF is calling on the California Attorney General’s office to tighten its scrutiny of federal agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, to ensure that they not abusing CLETS for immigration enforcement.
“The California Attorney General is finally taking police database abuse seriously,” EFF Staff Attorney Aaron Mackey said. “It’s great that we will finally have good aggregate data on misuse. Now law enforcement needs to follow up on any improper behavior with thorough investigations.”
For deeper analysis and links to the records: