Trump administration officials have considered finding a way to allow law enforcement access to census information, a move that would go against strict federal laws, according to the Washington Post. This information emerged via documents from one of many lawsuits challenging the administration’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census survey.
From the Post:
The subject came up after a Democratic lawmaker asked whether responses to the survey could ever be shared with law enforcement agencies, something that has been strictly illegal according to federal law governing the census.
After Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Ca) asked whether the Justice Department agreed with a 2010 memo it had issued saying the Patriot Act could not override the confidentiality of the Census, department officials discussed how to answer the question in a way that left the answer open.
In a June 12 email, Justice Department attorney Ben Aguinaga suggested to acting assistant attorney general John Gore that they not say “too much” in response to Gomez’s question, in case the issue were to “come up later for renewed debate.”
Most experts agree that the census would not work without confidentiality. The Census Act actually requires the information stay within the Commerce Department and out of the hands of other government agencies. A violation of that rule can lead to five years in federal prison and fines of $250,000.
The citizenship question proposed by the Trump administration could undermine the accuracy of the census, especially among immigrant groups.
“It could reinforce fears about how this adminsitration could use census responses,” Terri Ann Lowenthal, a former Congress official who worked with the House census oversight subcommittee, told the Post. According to Lowenthal, Gomez’ question “should have been an easy opportunity for the Justice Department to reaffirm that there is an ironclad wall around personal census responses.”
“The Census Act makes it absolutely clear that individual census responses cannot leave the Commerce Department,” Tom Wolf, a lawyer involved in the cases brought against the administration for their proposed census changes, told the Post. “The Department of Justice has absolutely no say in whether the census data can be shared; (it) has to follow federal statutes just like everyone else.”
According to Wolf, any such change in census protocol would have to come from Congress.