On February 28, 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union sent a letter to White House Counsel Don McGahn criticizing a policy change affecting privacy protections for immigrants implemented by one of two executive orders issued by President Donald Trump on January 25, 2017. The executive order at issue directs federal agencies to “exclude persons who are not United States citizens or lawful permanent residents” from protections previously afforded to them under the Privacy Act of 1974.
In noting that the policy shift has been little noticed, the ACLU claims in its letter that implementing such a directive “threatens the privacy rights of immigrants, foreign residents and U.S. citizens; raises multiple constitutional and legal concerns; and calls into question whether the U.S. is meeting its obligations under existing international agreements.” In a statement coinciding with the letter, the ACLU warned that this policy change places the personal information of refugees, college students, tourists, individuals with work visas and others at risk of public disclosure.
The ACLU’s letter also addresses a number of legal issues that it feels constrain agency implementation of the order and expresses skepticism that such issues are being properly considered based on agency implementation memos that have been circulated thus far. Among those issues are agreements between the European Union and U.S. that govern the commercial exchange of data and data sharing among law enforcement agencies. As a result, the ACLU also sent a joint letter with Human Rights Watch to EU officials warning of the potential disruption to standing agreements posed by President Trump’s order.