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DOL terminates data contracts with federal immigration agencies

The Washington Department of Licensing (DOL) got into some hot water earlier this year when news broke that they had been sharing information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Following the news, Governor Inslee quickly called on the DOL to make immediate policy changes and leaders in the legislature called for an investigation into the DOL’s data-sharing activities.

In response to these events, Thursday morning the DOL presented an overview of the department’s recent policy changes to the Joint Transportation Commission.

Representing the DOL in the briefing was Beau Perschbacher, Legislative and Policy Director of the DOL, and Brad Benfield, the department’s Assistant Director of the Programs and Services Division. They began their presentation describing the huge amount of data that the DOL collects, maintains, and shares.

“One of the things that we realized is that we’re not just a public safety agency, we’re very much a data-sharing agency and we really need to stop and think about ourselves that way,” said Benfield during the overview. “And that’s what’s informing all of our data governance work.”

Two of the major changes that the DOL put in place are the removal of Social Security numbers from their law-enforcement data sharing system (ACCESS) and the removal of information related to legal status or birth place.

Perschbacher and Benfield also described changes made to the Driver and Plate Search (DAPS) online database. DAPS is only accessible by authorized users such as law enforcement agencies who have a contract with DOL. Recently, the DOL terminated DAPS contracts with two federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement units, a Customs and Border Protection unit, and a U.S. Customs and Immigration Service unit.

The DOL also required nine other federal agencies to sign new DAPS contracts. The new contracts all contain the following permissible use language:

“Licensee is strictly prohibited from using Data for purposes of investigating, locating, or apprehending individuals for immigration related violations.”

The department also changed the way it processes information requests to the License Integrity Unit (LIU). The LIU provides photos, applications, vehicle titles, and other documents to law enforcement and government agencies. Law enforcement requests now require three levels of approval and a special review if the request is potentially related to immigration. In addition, the DOL has begun redacting birth place information on ID and license applications.

Senator Padden recently wrote an op-ed in which he opined that the changes to the DOL’s data sharing policies put the public at risk and are simply a means for Gov. Inslee and AG Ferguson to score political points.

“If law-enforcement agencies are unable to obtain and confirm basic information, public safety may be compromised,” wrote Sen. Padden. “Law enforcement needs to be free to do its job and keep the public, including immigrant communities, safe.”

Thursday’s full Joint Transportation Committee meeting can be viewed here.