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Electronic Privacy Information Center v. United States Department of Commerce

The Electronic Privacy and Information Center filed a lawsuit challenging the Commerce Department’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census without having conducted Privacy Impact Assessments analyzing how citizenship data will be handled.

Published: June 17, 2019

Note: The Bren­nan Center is not a parti­cipant in this case.

Summary 

The Elec­tronic Privacy Inform­a­tion Center filed a lawsuit chal­len­ging the Commerce Depart­ment’s decision to add a citizen­ship ques­tion to the 2020 Census without conduct­ing and publish­ing Privacy Impact Assess­ments that analyze how citizen­ship data will be handled.

On June 28, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit held that the plaintiffs lack stand­ing and remanded the case to the district court to dismiss the case.

Case Back­ground

The Elec­tronic Privacy Inform­a­tion Center (EPIC) sued the United States Depart­ment of Commerce under the Admin­is­trat­ive Proced­ure Act to compel the Depart­ment to create and publish Privacy Impact Assess­ments required by the E-Govern­ment Act of 2002. The plaintiffs conten­ded that the Commerce Depart­ment and the Census Bureau failed to conduct and publicly release a “legally suffi­cient” Privacy Impact Assess­ment for the “collec­tion, processing, and stor­age” of person­ally iden­ti­fi­able citizen­ship data on the 2020 Census.

The plaintiffs asked the court to enjoin the Commerce Depart­ment from includ­ing the citizen­ship ques­tion on the 2020 Census until the Depart­ment has published a “full and complete” Privacy Impact Assess­ment.

On Janu­ary 18, the plaintiffs filed a motion for prelim­in­ary injunc­tion. On Febru­ary 11, the court denied the plaintiffs’ request to enjoin the Commerce Depart­ment from includ­ing the citizen­ship ques­tion to the 2020 Census. 

On Febru­ary 21, EPIC filed an appeal in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asking the court to review the district court’s decision to deny prelim­in­ary relief. Oral argu­ment was heard on May 8, 2019. 

On June 28, 2019, the appeals court held that the plaintiffs lack stand­ing and remanded the case to the district court to dismiss the case. 

On August 12, 2019, the plaintiffs filed a peti­tion for rehear­ing in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, asking the court to grant the peti­tion for rehear­ing, or in the altern­at­ive, modify or vacate the judg­ment of the panel.

Key docu­ments

District Court

U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (Case No. 19–5031)