State won’t release driver’s license info without order

Officials said the agency would end practice of collecting “information that … could be misused.”

Associated Press

OLYMPIA — The Washington State Department of Licensing says it will no longer release personal information to federal immigration authorities without a court order unless required by law.

The agency announced the change Monday, days after The Seattle Times reported the Department of Licensing was providing personal information to federal authorities in spite of an executive order from Gov. Jay Inslee directing state employees not to assist them in enforcing immigration laws.

Agency leaders also said they would end the practice of collecting “information that isn’t mandated and could be misused” such as place of birth on license applications.

The changes came in consultation with the office of the governor and attorney general.

“I think what we’re doing is the right thing right now,” Inslee said Monday.

The state must protect the release of personal data more aggressively, he said, because “the Trump administration has abandoned what they told us which is they are only going after criminals.”

“It turns out what they’re doing is going after many, many people that do not have criminal histories as we would understand them,” he said. “We have to do as better job tightening the release of this information to protect people in our state.”

Since 1969, the Department of Licensing has cooperated with law enforcement in their criminal investigations, as a matter of public safety, according to agency spokeswoman Christine Anthony. Recently questions arose whether the practices aligned with the governor’s executive order, she said.

“We support the Executive Order, but failed to meet the governor’s intent regarding the protection of this type of information,” said Pat Kohler, director of the Department of Licensing, in a statement. “We are sorry that our work did not align with our state’s values.”

In response, Kohler and Inslee announced the agency will stop the release of all records to federal immigration authorities absent a court order signed by a federal judge or magistrate, or under the requirement of state or federal law.

They also will undertake emergency rule-making to end the collection of information such as place of birth which is now collected in the process of applying for a driver’s license or identification card. Washington is one of the few states that allow people without proof of legal U.S. residency to get a driver’s license.

Also Deputy Director Jeff DeVere, who oversaw compliance with the executive order, resigned Sunday “of his own accord,” Anthony said.

Inslee, who publicly apologized Monday, also thanked Kohler “for acting so quickly on this to make sure we reduce the ability of the Trump Administration to criminalize everything that they see.”

Herald Writer Jerry Cornfield contributed to this report.

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