In 2017, a federal judge in Washington, D.C., denied President Donald Trump’s bid to bar the Justice Department from using data collected from a database of millions of Americans who applied for security clearances.
That ruling led to a legal battle between the Obama administration and a conservative legal group, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).
The case was ultimately settled out of court, but it’s a victory for civil libertarians and others who fear Trump’s actions would undermine privacy protections.
The Trump administration has been criticized for its reliance on the Justice and Homeland Security Departments’ (DHS) security clearance databases, which track applicants’ past criminal histories and immigration records.
President Trump and his Cabinet officials have defended the program by saying it is necessary to keep tabs on potential threats.
Critics say the databases have been used to deny millions of people access to important legal protections, including protections against warrantless searches and data collection without their consent.
The Department of Homeland Security (Dhs) has long argued that the databases provide a useful tool to identify potential threats and to monitor potential terrorism threats.
But the Obama Administration has argued that these databases are too cumbersome for the current vetting processes.
According to the DHS, the database is used for: to identify individuals who have committed, or are suspected of committing, violent or criminal acts that could threaten the United States; the identity and location of any individuals who are a threat to national security, national security personnel, or the national security apparatus; and any individuals who may pose a threat that requires a higher level of scrutiny.
In a letter filed last week in federal court in Washington D.O., the ACLU said the government’s “deflationary argument” is “not grounded in any real evidence or any reasonable interpretation of the statute” and that its “unlawful and arbitrary” decisions to use the database are unconstitutional.
“This is the first time we’ve seen a federal court order against a department,” said Laura Kipnis, senior staff attorney for the ACLU’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project.
“It’s the first case in the country where a court has ordered the administration to stop using the database.”
In January, a Justice Department official told CBS News that the Trump administration would “not use data collected on applicants for security clearance to support its own counterterrorism programs.”
In the letter, the DHS official also said that the program is “essential to our national security.”
The Department’s official position is that DHS “cannot, and should not, use this information to develop its own assessments of the risk of terrorism.”
In its filing, the ACLU asked for an order barring the Trump Administration from using the system in a manner that “substantially impairs” the government “national security.”
“In addition, we ask that the court require DHS to demonstrate that it has a reasonable basis to rely on this information in its planning and execution of counterterrorism activities,” the letter says.
“This will require DHS and the DOJ to stop abusing the government data system to deny applicants security clearings,” said Kipins.
The ACLU has called on Congress to block the Trump government from using DHS’ security clearess databases.
Kipnis said that Congress needs to act quickly to prevent a repeat of the past.
“We don’t have to wait until the Trump presidency is over to make our voices heard,” Kipis said.
“We have to act now.”