Lara has introduced two bills aimed at better protecting the data gathered while applying for state services.
Senate Bill 244 would prohibit state agencies from using personal information for anything beyond what’s needed to process an application. Senate Bill 31 would block state and local governments from participating in any effort to establish a registry of Muslims or any other religion. Senate Bill 54 from Senate leader Kevin de León would prohibit state and local law enforcement agencies from using their resources for immigration enforcement purposes. Lara says California can't afford to wait.
“We have to be very vigilant and we have to be ahead of the game in terms of ensuring that our immigrant community's information is going to be kept here in California and it's not going to be shared with the federal government," Lara says.
But Republicans say Democrats are just sowing fear as part of an effort to undermine President Trump. Riverside County state Sen. Jeff Stone recently suggested as much while the Senate debated a resolution condemning increased federal immigration actions.
“This Senate resolution is just another piece of feel-good rant that scores political points with a few and panders to the increasing fear and anxiety of many," Stone says.
Civil liberties groups acknowledge many state systems already have confidentiality clauses in place. And California’s Constitution also contains a right to privacy.
Still, Jill Bronfman, with the Privacy and Technology Project at UC Hastings College of the Law, believes it may be time for the state to get creative in applying current laws if the federal government tries tapping into state databases. For instance, Bronfman says, California could expand protections for victims of domestic violence to include people targeted by the federal government.
"Can you be threatened or stalked by the federal government? Is deportation to a war zone or certain gender violence a sufficient threat to be protected by this program?" she asks.
Bronfman says California has always been at the forefront of privacy law. But she says things are happening quickly at the federal level and the state needs to be ready.