Privacy Group Challenge to Voter Panel Data Collection Fails

(Bloomberg) -- A U.S. privacy group doesn’t have the legal right to seek a court order to block President Donald Trump’s election-integrity commission from collecting voter data because it doesn’t meet the necessary requirements, an appeals court ruled.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center “is not a voter," the three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington said Tuesday. "As far as the record shows, it has no traditional membership, let alone members who are voters. Unsurprisingly, then, it does not claim standing on behalf of any voter whose data is likely to be collected."

The group also failed to show it suffered any injury as a result of the voter-data collection effort, the panel said.

The nonprofit group, whose stated mission is “to focus public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues," sued the panel in July to halt its attempt to gather publicly available voter data from states, including names, addresses, birth dates and the final four digits of social security numbers. Trump created the panel in May after claiming he lost the popular vote to Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton because of fraud.

EPIC argued that the panel acted unlawfully by not first "creating, reviewing, and publishing a privacy impact assessment." The appeals court found that the group is unable to assert those claims.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in July rejected the privacy group’s challenge to the collection effort and its demand that the commission reveal how the data will be safeguarded, marking a rare win for an administration that’s been ensnared in litigation over the president’s immigration, environmental and regulatory agendas.

Numerous states refused to provide some or all of the records sought, citing state laws and concerns about what the commission plans to do with the information. The commission halted collection efforts on July 10.

"It was a surprising outcome," Marc Rotenberg, president of EPIC, said in a statement. He said the group plans to ask the court to review the three-judge panel’s decision "en banc," meaning by all of the court’s judges.

EPIC contends that without a privacy impact assessment, as required by the 2002 E-Government Act, the aggregation of voters’ personal data threatened to harm U.S. citizens. Justice Department lawyers argued there was no threat to privacy because the information would be uploaded via a secure U.S. Army website and transferred to White House computers.

A spokeswoman for Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, who is also vice chairman of the commission, didn’t immediately respond to a call seeking comment.

The case is Electronic Privacy Information Center v. Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, 17-5157, U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

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