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Lawsuit challenges Secure Communities on basis of Privacy Act (2 of 2)

Welcome back. As we began discussing last week, the first lawsuit of its kind has been filed alleging that the Secure Communities program violated the rights of an American citizen. If what the lawsuit alleges is true, the rights of millions of other U.S. citizens may have been violated by the Secure Communities program as well.

The Secure Communities program was adopted by the federal government in 2006, and more recently has been implemented by about 97 percent of state and local law enforcement agencies throughout the country. By the end of the year, 100 percent participation is expected.

The program requires state and local law enforcement agencies to cross-check the fingerprints of arrestees with the FBI criminal database and the immigration database. The federal government has said the program is responsible for close to doubling the number of deportations of convicted criminals.

However, the program is also very controversial and at least three state governors have openly objected to federal orders to implement Secure Communities. Immigration advocacy groups are also very much against the program, saying that it easily leads to wrongful imprisonment and deportation.

Recently, a 24-year-old man filed suit against the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, charging that he was wrongfully detained in a maximum-security prison after he was mistakenly classified as an illegal immigrant. The lawsuit alleges that many other people's rights under the Privacy Act of 1974 have also been violated by the Secure Communities program.

The Privacy Act of 1974 limits the information, including fingerprints, that can be shared between government agencies when the person at issue is not suspected of an immigration violation.

"The FBI and DHS are consistently and systematically violating the Privacy Act," the man's lawyer said. "The FBI should not be sharing this data if they have indications that this individual is a U.S. citizen."

Since the Secure Communities program began, the FBI has sent more than 16 million fingerprints to the immigration database. Of those, records show that 900,000 were flagged as potential immigration violators. Therefore, the lawsuit argues that other 15 million sets of fingerprints belonged to U.S. citizens, and their sharing was in violation of the Privacy Act.

This is a very important and interesting case that we will be sure to follow. Stay tuned.

Source: LA Times, "Citizen sues over imprisonment under fingerprint-sharing program," Brian Bennett, July 6, 2012

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