Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Monday written by Assemblyman Todd Gloria, D-San Diego, which is intended to end the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency's practice of accessing gas and electric customer utility data to facilitate deportations.
Assembly Bill 2788 will prevent electric and gas utilities from disclosing a customer's electric or gas consumption data with immigration authorities without a subpoena or judicial warrant starting Jan. 1, 2021.
"This is a tremendous victory for the privacy of all Californians and an important safeguard for our immigrant and refugee communities," Gloria said. "We know ICE has repeatedly accessed customer data from public utilities in California to learn not only where a person lives, but when they're home -- and it's been done without a court order."
Public utility data -- also known as smart meter data -- is particularly sensitive as it can reveal where a person lives, the number of people in a household, and when individuals are home, Gloria said. Current law prohibits public utilities from releasing data usage to a commercial third party without a customer's consent, unless there is a subpoena.
According to Gloria, ICE circumvents this process by using their own administrative subpoenas instead of securing judicial authority. AB 2788 is intended to close this gap in existing law and requires ICE to get a court-ordered subpoena or warrant to access this data.
"Government agencies should not have the right to harass communities. Utility customers deserve essential energy service without fear of surveillance of their smart meter data," said Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network.
Under the rules of the California Public Utilities Commission, electric and gas utilities are required to annually report the number of demands received for disclosure of customer data. These transparency reports have revealed that ICE and other agencies have requested and received utility data from a large number of customers, with some utilities handing over data for thousands of people based on administrative subpoenas.