DOJ says lawsuit over collection of voter data has no legs, promises to secure data

Posted at 9:16 PM, Jul 06, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-06 21:16:43-04

(CNN) — The Justice Department is fighting a lawsuit filed by a privacy group to stop President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity from collecting voter information across the country, hoping to persuade a federal judge Thursday that the Trump administration is taking adequate steps to protect the data.

Last week, the commission’s vice chairman, Kris Kobach, sent a letter to all 50 states requesting a slew of voter roll data — but only if publicly available under state laws. Nevertheless, the request triggered a federal lawsuit in DC by the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which calls the commission’s request “without precedent” and claims it poses cybersecurity risks and violates constitutionally-protected privacy rights.

Justice Department lawyers said in response to the lawsuit Wednesday that the group cannot show how it would be harmed by the voter information requests, especially in light of the fact that the commission is only seeking publicly available information, but US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly shot back a series of questions for the Trump administration to answer first — including who is responsible for collecting and storing the data.

Kobach said Thursday that states will upload the data to a US Army-run application for exchanging files securely, and “Commission staff will download the files from (the Safe Access File Exchange) onto White House computers.”

“As this is a Presidential advisory commission, the White House is responsible for collecting and storing data for the Commission,” Kobach continued. “The Commission’s Designated Federal Officer (an employee within the Office of the Vice President) will work with White House Information Technology staff to facilitate collection and storage.”

EPIC has further argued that Kollar-Kotelly must block the collection efforts immediately because the commission failed to undertake “Privacy Impact Assessment” as required under federal law before sending the information requests — a requirement that the Justice Department says only applies to “agencies,” which the commission is not.

Kollar-Kotelly has set a hearing for Friday at 4 pm.

Meanwhile, some states have refused to provide certain voter information in response to the commission’s request — some rebuffing the request altogether and others expressing willingness to provide information that is already public.