By LeNora Millen 07-24-17
A federal judge on Monday allowed President Trump’s “Commission on Election Integrity” move forward with collecting voter data from 50 states, despite many of the states refusing to release the requested information.
The District, ruling the White House advisory panel is exempt from federal privacy review requirements whatever additional risk it might pose to Americans’ information.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s described the ruling on Monday, regarding legal issues as “highly technical.” The ruling rejected a privacy group’s challenge to the collection effort and its demand that the commission reveals how the data will be used. The Judge’s decision will face more challenges—states not included in the lawsuit brought by the Electronic Privacy Information Center and aren’t compelled to comply
President Donald Trump gives a speech at the inaugural Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity: White House July 19, 2017
The ruling forestalled a public setback for Trump who has repeatedly claimed widespread fraud cost him the popular vote in November. The integrity commission’s request for the voting information of about more than 150 million registered voters remains controversial, with many state leaders from both parties voicing objections about its potential to reveal personal information, suppress voter participation and encroach on states’ oversight of voting laws.
The letter dated June 28 and signed by Kobach, asks for registered voters’ names, addresses, dates of birth, partial social security numbers, political party, a decade’s worth of voter history, information on felony convictions, and whether they have registered in more than one state.
The letter was followed by a separate document from the US Justice Department, which asked states to reveal how they maintain their voter rolls. The commission said all voter data submitted by the states would be made public.
On July 10, the White House officials discussed scrapping initial plans to use a Pentagon-operated website to accept the data, but would instead use a different method. Those changes appeared crucial in a 35-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of Washington said.
“The mere increased risk of disclosure stemming from the collection and eventual anonymized disclosure of already publicly available voter roll information is insufficient” to block the data request, she wrote.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly, who was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997, ruled against the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a watchdog group that sought to block the commission’s data request because the panel had not conducted a full privacy impact statement as required by a 2002 federal law for new government electronic data collection systems.
She concluded that while EPIC had the right to sue under the law for a privacy review, the commission was a presidential advisory panel, not a federal agency subject to the privacy law.
“Neither the Commission or the Director of White House Information Technology — who is currently charged with collecting voter roll information on behalf of the Commission — are ‘agencies’” of the federal government subject to the court’s review in this matter, Kollar-Kotelly wrote.
“To the extent, the factual circumstances change, however — for example, if the powers of the Commission expand beyond those of a purely advisory body — this determination may need to be revisited.”
Kollar-Kotelly wrote the only added risk to privacy were if the White House computer systems are more vulnerable to security threats than those of the states, or that its de-identification process would be inadequate.
President and Executive Director Marc Rotenberg of the Electronic Privacy center was expected to issue a statement shortly.
A spokesman for the voter information commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The commission is led by Vice President Pence, with Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R- KS) as vice chairman.
At least 44 states have indicated they won’t provide all their voter data, with some saying they would provide nothing and others providing what information they could under state laws.
The vice president’s office has said 20 states have agreed to share at least some data and 16 more are reviewing the request.
President Trump has said that widespread voter fraud cost him the popular vote in November, although critics say the claim is unsubstantiated and is a pretext for federal laws to suppress voter participation, including by racial minority groups and poor people.
Trump has championed the commission’s work as a way to “strengthen up voting procedures” by identifying “vulnerabilities that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting.” Conservative board members have advocated stricter federal election laws, alleging that a liberal bias in U.S. enforcement has benefited liberals.
In court filings, Rotenberg called the privacy implications of creating “a secret database stored in the White House” of hundreds of millions of voter records from across the country “staggering” and lacking legal authorization.
The court order was not a final ruling on the commission’s work, with other groups filing lawsuits and one appealing to a higher federal court to block its action under open records and meeting laws.
Monday’s ruling removed one legal obstacle even as the commission faces other political head winds. The commission had asked states to hold off submitting the comprehensive voter data the panel had requested pending the court decision.
EPIC said the proposal would increase privacy risks to every registered voter, “including in particular military families whose home addresses would be revealed,” people whose partial Social Security numbers are used as passwords for commercial services and people with felony convictions.
Trump formed the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” in May after repeatedly suggesting that millions of illegal voters cost him the popular vote against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Studies and state officials of both parties have found no evidence of widespread voting fraud.
You might also like
More from Lifestyle
On Monday Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier resigned stating his choice to step down from Trump’s Manufacturing Council was a matter …