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Public Citizen v. Department of the Army

In 2017, the Trump Administration set up a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to investigate purported voter fraud in the 2016 election. The Vice Chair of the Commission asked the states to submit certain voter information to the Department of the Army, including voter history and political party affiliation. The Privacy Act, however, prohibits federal agencies from collecting, using, maintaining, or disseminating records describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. By accepting this data, the Army would violate the Privacy Act’s prohibition on collecting information describing the exercise of individuals’ first amendment rights; and by allowing the Commission to download this data, the Army would violate the Privacy Act’s prohibition on disseminating this information.

Public Citizen filed suit on behalf of its members to prevent the Army from collecting, maintaining, or disseminating the data. Shortly thereafter, the Commission stated that it was going not going to involve the Army, or any other federal agency, in its data collection, but instead would use a server within the White House. Public Citizen then dismissed its lawsuit against the Army.

Unfortunately, by handling the collection and use of the voter data within the White House, the Commission was able to avoid the requirements of the Privacy Act, which courts have held do not apply to the White House. Several months later, however, in the face of numerous legal challenges and lack of evidence, the Commission was disbanded.