Protecting Immigrant Privacy with SB 54, the California Values Act

By Vasudha Talla

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and its sister agencies, have long targeted immigrants and communities of color using data collected at the state and local level. The California Values Act (Senate Bill 54) offers California the opportunity to advance important privacy protections that curtail the flow of sensitive personal information about immigrants that fuels mass deportation.

Behind ICE’s digital deportation machine

ICE draws from a complex web of information-sharing among federal, state, and local agencies to find and arrest people. At the federal level, Department of Homeland Security agencies, along with counterparts at the FBI and Department of State, maintain vast troves of data on people entering, leaving, and living in the United States. These agencies collect basic biographic information about immigrants, along with social media handles, information from commercial data aggregators, biometrics such as face scans at land and air borders, and surveillance technology data such as drones and automated license plate readers. DHS draws upon powerful information processing and facial recognition software — technology criticized for its bias against communities of color — to process the data and generate leads that guide ICE in targeting communities and individuals for deportation.

Alongside its own databases and surveillance technology, ICE uses data collected by local law enforcement — often containing unverified allegations or naming people who will never be charged with a crime — for immigration enforcement. Programs like Secure Communities provide ICE with real-time knowledge: local police departments run biometric checks through the FBI database when arresting and booking individuals, leading to notifications of ICE. Other local law enforcement databases and regional information sharing networks — such as COPLINK and LInx and the CA Law Enforcement Telecommunications Network — allow ICE to access sensitive personal information about community members. Gang databases that reflect discriminatory and biased policing practices are yet another source of information for ICE.

The effects of the fear of deportation

Local communities have pulled back from obtaining essential services for fear that their information will be shared with ICE. Recent studies examine the impact of Secure Communities in reducing access to jobs, health care, and nutrition for undocumented individuals and citizens alike. Victims are afraid to report domestic violence; people in need of health care are afraid to seek medical attention; survivors are afraid to seek FEMA assistance after wildfires and natural disasters; and families are afraid to apply for assistance to feed their families.

In the face of these fears, cities and states have moved to protect their communities by reasserting control over their residents’ data. Digital sanctuary cities are disentangling information-sharing networks with ICE. These cities are rejecting contracts with surveillance technology companies that do business with ICE and passing local ordinances that allow for community input before surveillance technology is used.

California has the opportunity to propel itself to the forefront of this movement

The California Values Act (Senate Bill 54) broadly prohibits local law enforcement from assisting in federal immigration enforcement. Among its provisions, the Attorney General’s office is required to issue guidelines that ensure that personal information held in law enforcement databases is not used for immigration enforcement purposes.

Last month, a wide range of community organizations submitted recommendations to the Attorney General’s office for what those guidelines should look like. Drawing from the Fair Information Practice Principles, a widely-used framework to protect privacy, our recommendations focus on protecting the informational privacy of immigrants and preventing data from being used for immigration enforcement.

Among our recommendations:

  • Limit Collection. Agencies should limit collection of personal information that can be used as a proxy for immigration status or for immigration enforcement, such as place of birth, tax numbers, and home and work addresses.
  • Consider Alternative Methods. If agencies are legally required to collect personal information, they should consider alternate methods of fulfilling that obligation that do not require collecting sensitive personal information that could later be used for immigration enforcement.
  • Limit Retention and Sharing. Agencies should minimize the retention of personal information that could be used for immigration enforcement, and limit its availability to certain, specified users. Agencies should only share personal information with other entities where there are clear policies and procedures in place to ensure that the information will not be used for immigration enforcement. Moreover, agencies should not provide unlimited access to personal information or allow bulk or mass sharing; any sharing of personal information should be individualized and documented.
  • Accountability and Auditing. Agencies should conduct regular audits of whether and how personal information has been disclosed to internal and external entities. Agencies should publicly disclose how many requests they have received from immigration authorities, the legal justifications underlying those requests, how it responded to those requests, and whether notice was provided to the individuals who were the subject of those requests.
  • Gang Databases. In California, advocates have long documented the discriminatory ways in which gang databases are used to target and harass racial minorities and immigrant communities. Field interview cards, which are used to input data into CalGang and other gang databases, should be updated to remove prompts for social security number, nationality, country of origin, or immigration status. If information from these databases is shared with federal authorities for non-immigration enforcement purposes, the agency should note whether it is providing simply allegations or judicial findings of gang membership.
  • California Law Enforcement Telecommunications Network (CLETS). The California Department of Justice oversees CLETS and allows ICE, CBP, and other DHS agencies to have access to CLETS. CADOJ should create tiers for different levels of access to CLETS, depending on the type of user, and limit the level of access given to agencies engaged in immigration enforcement. Law enforcement agencies should not share information available through CLETS with these agencies.
  • Surveillance Technology. Data collected by surveillance technology — such as automated license plate readers — should be subject to the same limits and privacy policies as other personal information. Local law enforcement should limit the sharing of data collected locally for one purpose with agencies that may share it onwards for other purposes.
  • Fusion centers. Facilities that house equipment and staff that enable broad intelligence sharing between local, state, and federal agencies should ensure that any law enforcement or investigatory activities they carry out with agencies engaged in immigration enforcement does not include the unfettered access to databases at the fusion centers.

Vasudha Talla is a Staff Attorney with the ACLU of Northern California.

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  1. Jerry Waszczuk

    Personally  I think that any State Bill which supposedly should protect illegals is futile and unnecessary .  Illegals not need such support and attention .  Obama administration deported 3 million and State when California did not have SB 54 .


    1. Howard P

      Nuance… not all “undocumented” folk are “illegally” here… Dad was born in PA, but his birth cert was destroyed in a fire @ the hospital when he was young… ‘undocumented’, as to citizenship (or even ‘personhood’).  Took him awhile to resolve that when he tried to enlist in the Navy in early 1942… took a sworn affidavit from his Pastor, and records of his baptism to clear it up.

      That said, CA DL’s issued to non-citizens (of any stripe) may be separately labelled… just don’t know.

      And, I’d rather have a non-citizen, of any stripe, have some sort of Driver’s License/ID, preferably with ‘documentation’ of photo ID, passing all the DL requirements, vision test, and proof of insurance before they drive.  I have no problem with the AB 60 thing… I like it… without it, tell me how we can begin to ensure that nobody even drives a car (whether citizen or any stripe of non-citizen) unless they are ‘fit to drive’, and have insurance?

      1. Jerry Waszczuk


        This is not about having problem if illegals have DL or not. This about giving yourself on the silver plate to the immigration law enforcement agency .

  2. Alan Miller

    the California Values Act

    Seriously, that’s the name of this?

    Why not call it “Every Body Needs Milk”?  It has about as much to do with the legislation’s intent.

    It should be illegal to name legislation something that is that F-ing VAGUE.

    They actually think someone is gonna go “wow, this supports my values, since I live in California”, and vote for it?  Do they think we are that F-ing stoooooopid?

    Or are they afraid if they call it “Immigrant Information Privacy Act” people wouldn’t vote for it?

    And surely that wouldn’t consider calling it the “Illegal Immigrant Information Privacy Act”.

    1. Howard P

      Yeah… title sounds more appropriate if it was on a resolution by the State saying they value the American Conservatory Theater…

      “Immigrant Information Privacy Act” sounds like the right label… I might support/vote for it, might not.

    2. Eric Gelber

      You won’t be asked to vote on SB 54; it’s already law, passed by the Legislature. Legislation with misleading or uninformative names is nothing new. For example: Patriot Act (an acronym, but uninformative), Defense of Marriage Act (not a defense of marriage, limitations on who can marry), Right to Work laws (actually, union-busting laws), etc.

      1. Alan Miller

        EG, agree about all those.  Those are deceptive — which could be better/worse depending on your opinion.  This one doesn’t even mention the subject, must less try to deceive its intent.

    3. Ken A

      The “Make it easier for greedy contractors and farmers to continue to hire and underpay the undocumented act” probably would not have the votes.

      This was a win-win for the elected officials since they not only get more campaign cash from the building trades and agribusiness who make more money when they can hire the undocumented (and avoid minimum wage laws, maximum hours laws and paying for healthcare, workman’s comp or payroll taxes) but get a lot of people to think they have “California Values”…

  3. Jeff M

    Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and its sister agencies, have long targeted immigrants and communities of color using data collected at the state and local level.

    If eastern Europe was our south of border neighbor, then ICE would be targeting white people.  So how about we stop with the disingenuous hogwash insinuation that ICE is racist or biased against people of color.

    1. Howard P

      Would they?  Really?

      Don’t think they’re doing the targeting, with say, Canada… or is there something intrinsically different between our southern and northern borders?  As I recall, our northern border is significantly longer, and have yet to see any proposal for  a “great big wall” along it…

      Failure of logic, Jeff… zero persuasion… strange comment…

      1. Jeff M

        Howard, sorry but I see your comment as being the strange one.

        The fact that the flood of poor and uneducated people into the US tends to be Hispanic and with brown skin is the reason that ICE appears to be targeting people that are Hispanic and with brown skin.

        If the poor and uneducated flooding in were of different race and ethnicity, then it would appear that ICE is targeting them.

        Do some demographic math will ya?

        1. Ron

          Jeff:  Agreed.

          It does, however, beg another interesting question:  Are those with darker skin (worldwide) generally poorer and less-educated?  If so, why?

          I don’t have an answer. But, it seems that “modern society” originated/developed more in Europe and the U.S., for whatever reason. (Of course, other societies had also “advanced” well-before this occurred in Europe and America.)

        2. Ron

          And, for that matter – how did Mexico become so screwed up (after Spain “took it over”, from the Incas?) And, what caused the expatriates to declare independency from Spain? Was that a factor, regarding current conditions in Mexico? (Why did such an approach work for the U.S., but not so much in Mexico?)

          And, to loosely reference/paraphrase John Belushi (from the movie “Animal House”), why did the “Germans bomb Pearl Harbor”? 🙂

        3. Alan Miller

          how did Mexico become so screwed up (after Spain “took it over”, from the Incas?)

          That was because the Mayans and Aztecs were such arseholes that they wouldn’t let the Incas built radio towers on their pyramids.

        4. Ron


          Before Howard jumps on me, I figured that I better have a cursory look at the history of Mexico.  (I guess it was the Aztecs/Mayans, as you noted.)

          Now, I guess I’ll have to look up the difference between Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas. Not to mention Mexican independence, the Missions and earlier claims/land grants in what is now California, etc.

          Guess I shouldn’t rely upon John Belushi for history lessons.  🙂

    2. Alan Miller

      If eastern Europe was our south of border neighbor . . .

      I think we’d have much bigger problems than immigration.  Like what the F— happened to the Atlantic Ocean?

        1. Jerry Waszczuk

          Poland has over one million illegals from Ukraine and other countries and has own immigration problem .  Not many Polish people looking to go to United States . Poland is EU member and EU has open borders than no need to go to  USA to work  and  make better wages .

    3. Jerry Waszczuk


      ICE don’t discriminate and equally applies immigration  law and deporting  overstaying  Visa Poles , Romanians and others. It is not only southern border .

    4. Ron

      It’s an interesting question, regarding to what degree race is a factor, regarding the manner in which the U.S. manages the Northern, vs. Southern borders.

      I suspect that the difference is more closely related to the “market demand” to immigrate, due to conditions in countries of origin.  (In other words, if “poor Canadians” were flooding across the border, I suspect that the response would be about the same.)

      When it comes right down to it, I’m convinced that most people don’t give a damn about “race”. However, that’s different than saying that racism doesn’t exist.

      Perhaps there’s even more reluctance to address the problem at the Southern border, due to excessive sensitivity regarding claims of racism.

      1. Jerry Waszczuk



        For fact I know  one German for whom visa was not required to enter USA but he overstayed 3 moths period and is prohibited by immigration to visit USA for next three years .

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