PINDROP BLOG

Senators Push Trump Administration for Clarity on Privacy Act

A group of influential lawmakers, including Sen. Ed Markey and Sen. Ron Wyden, are pressing the Trump administration for answers about how an executive order that includes changes to the Privacy Act will affect non-U.S. persons and whether the administration plans to release immigrants’ private data.

The letter comes from six senators who are concerned about the executive order that President Trump issues two weeks ago that excludes from privacy protections people who aren’t U.S. citizens or permanent residents. The order is mostly about changes to immigration policy, but Trump also included a small section that requires federal government agencies to exclude immigrants from Privacy Act protections.

“Agencies shall, to the extent consistent with applicable law, ensure that their privacy policies exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents from the protections of the Privacy Act regarding personally identifiable information,” the order says.

On Thursday, Markey, Wyden, and four other senators sent a letter to Secretary of Homeland Security Jon Kelly, asking a series of 10 questions about how the exclusion would be implemented, what it would cost, and whether the government plans to release the private data of people affected by the order.

“These Privacy Act exclusions could have a devastating impact on immigrant communities, and would be inconsistent with the commitments made when the government collected much of this information,” the senators say in the letter to Kelly.

“These Privacy Act exclusions could have a devastating impact on immigrant communities.”

“This provision recalls a disturbing moment in American history when the Census bureau provided the names and addresses of Japanese-Americans to the Treasury Secretary to assist in finding those who had avoided interment. We should not be looking to recreate this tragic moment in history, nor to discourage reporting of personal information to the government for legitimate purposes.”

In the letter, the lawmakers ask Kelly whether people affected by the order will be allowed full access to their own private data that has been collected by the government. They also ask how the government plans to identify U.S. persons in their databases and what policies DHS will apply to separate them from non-U.S persons. The letter also asks for clarification on how the executive order will affect the Privacy Shield pact between the U.S and the European Union. That agreement enables companies to move private data between countries under certain data protection laws.

Legal experts say the executive order could threaten that pact.

“This should be considered by Europeans a slap in the face for the Privacy Shield agreement that we entered into last year. This creates a new challenge,” Amie Stepanovich,U.S. policy manager at Access Now, said when the order was announced.

Among the other senators who signed the letter to Kelly are Sens. Al Franken, Jeffrey Merkley, Christopher Coons, and Mazie Hirono.

Image: Gage Skidmore, CC BY Sa license.