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Marin County sheriff agrees to stop sharing data with feds

Law enforcement officials were gathering license plate information with plate-reading cameras and sharing their records with federal agencies in violation of California law.

MARIN COUNTY, Calif. (CN) — Marin County’s sheriff has agreed to stop sharing residents’ license plate information with hundreds of federal agencies, such as Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In a settlement reached Wednesday with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California, Sheriff Robert Doyle agreed to stop sharing license and location information with agencies outside of California and comply with SB 34 and the California Values Act. 

Marin County residents Lisa Bennett, Cesar S. Lagleva and Tara Evans filed the lawsuit in Marin County Superior Court on Oct. 14, 2021. The trio alleged that since 2014, the Sheriff’s Office has shared location information — collected using automated license plate reader cameras — about people across the North Bay with federal, state and local agencies across the country.

The complaint contended that Doyle’s sharing of this data violated two California laws: a bill enacted in 2015 that prohibits agencies from sharing automated license plate reader data with out-of-state and federal agencies, and the “sanctuary state” law, or California Values Act, which limits local law enforcement’s ability to assist with federal immigration enforcement.

The settlement is binding for future leaders of the sheriff’s office. This agreement means that federal and out-of-state agencies will no longer be able to get information collected by the county’s automated license plate reader cameras, which the ACLU called “a form of mass surveillance technology that is a threat to privacy and civil liberties, particularly for marginalized groups” in a press release.

The ACLU wrote that cameras scan tens of thousands of passing cars every month and information can be used to identify and track people, including immigrant community members who are at risk of deportation and incarceration when their data is shared with ICE and CBP.

“I’m so happy that the Marin County authorities are backing off on this,” said Bill Ong Hing, director of the Immigration and Deportation Defense clinic and a professor at the University of San Francisco, in a phone interview Wednesday. “It’s very troubling that they shared that kind of information with authorities, because it's so secretive and intrusive in terms of people’s expectations.”

Hing said he hopes this case will help set a precedent for other California counties which share data with other agencies. 

“There’s a big debate over sharing information between local law officials and ICE,” he said. “It’s a very good sign and statement to other jurisdictions who are doing this, and it would give them pause to do anything like this now.”

The ACLU Foundation of Northern California touted their win in a press release Wednesday.

“This settlement is a victory for disfavored and marginalized people, including immigrants, who historically have been subjected to civil rights abuses through invasive surveillance by police,” said Vasudha Talla, immigrants’ rights program director for the civil rights nonprofit, in the release. “It comes at an especially important time for civil liberties in California, which stands to become a refuge for marginalized groups, such as people seeking abortions or gender-affirming care, who find that their identities and rights are under attack in other states.”

Lisa Bennett added that she and other residents are still “concerned that Sheriff Doyle violated these state laws for so long and with so little transparency.”

“In light of this violation of public trust, we are calling on the Marin County Board of Supervisors to establish an oversight body to ensure continued accountability,” Bennett said in the press statement. 

“We are pleased that Sheriff Doyle has agreed that California law prohibits the sharing of ALPR [automated license plate reader] data with entities outside of California,” attorney Saira Hussain said in the release. She added that she hopes that other agencies will follow Marin County’s example.  

Marin County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Brenton Schneider and representatives for Marin’s Board of Supervisors, Customs and Border Protection and ICE were not available to comment before deadline. 

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