The California State Auditor, Elaine Howle, seems to think so. She published a report dated August 11, 2016 stating that she believes that because of the fact that there is no state oversight into the program, there is a lack of transparency into the program which results in the high potential to violate individual’s privacy rights. She stated that this lack of oversight and support has led to unverifiable information being added to the system. The CalGang is a system where criminal intelligence can be shared by law enforcement agencies. Each time a person is arrested, the officers will get information about them such as where they live, the gangs they have either claimed association with or ones that they are suspected of associating with, their tattoos, and their interaction with law enforcement in the past.
Currently, there are issues with the system that are being brought to light. The system’s lack of oversight from the state seems to be the main issue that then transforms in to a many more areas of shortcoming. Many individuals whose information should have been purged years ago are still found in the CalGang system; their information readily available for anyone who wants to use it. The way that the system is organized, it states that the information it contains should not be used as the basis for expert opinion or statement of fact, meaning just because the system says someone is in a gang should be taken to mean that they are in fact in that gang. The problem is that the information is being used in precisely the way it was not supposed to be used. At the end of her audit, as a proposed solution to the current issues, Howle calls for there to be some sort of oversight into the system.
This information and its use may not seem important at first blush but we have to remember that law enforcement officials use this kind of information when they arrest or question someone and if incorrect information is being entered into the system and then not purged when the statutes say they should be then we are facing plenty of individuals who may have been given gang enhancements on their charges facing some serious time in prison. Recently, a woman was sentenced to a large prison sentence simply because she was tagged as associated with a gang. More information can be found in the following video.
Another example from the report itself “Sonoma included a person in CalGang for allegedly admitting during his booking into county jail that he was a gang member and for being “arrested for an offense consistent with gang activity.” However, the supporting files revealed that this person stated during his booking interview that he was not a member of a gang and that he preferred to be housed in the general jail population. Further, his arrest was for resisting arrest, an offense that has no apparent connection to gang activity.’
If the State Auditor’s thoughts and recommendations are not taken into account, the potential for the abuse of private information only gets higher. More importantly, this type of system that is taken as the gospel truth in a felony gang trial is troubling for criminal defense attorneys. The information inputted into the system could be based upon unverified and biased police officer hearsay. This could unfortunately result in subjecting people who truly are not “gang members” to being deemed such, facing years in prison if convicted of a gang crime.
Keywords: Privacy Rights, Violated Privacy Rights, Privacy Rights Violated, Privacy Rights Protection