A nonprofit privacy group cannot stop President Trump's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity from collecting millions of voter records, an appeals court ruled Tuesday.
A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit determined that the Electronic Privacy Information Center "is not a voter" and therefore does not have standing to demand that the commission assess privacy concerns before assembling a vast database of voter information.
EPIC "has no traditional membership, let alone members who are voters," the judges wrote, and thus has only an "abstract social interest" in the voting commission's work.
"It was a surprising outcome," EPIC President Marc Rotenberg said in a statement. "Standing was well established."
A lower court had found that the group did have standing for a court challenge but that it could not force a privacy assessment because the commission is an advisory board, not an independent government agency.
The watchdog group plans to pursue a rehearing before the entire nine-judge appeals court.
Its legal challenge stems from a 2002 law designed to protect the privacy of individuals whose data might be collected by the government. Without a review required by that law, attorneys for EPIC argued, the group cannot perform its role in protecting Americans' privacy.
The judges, however, concluded that the law concerns individual privacy, not the public oversight EPIC aims to provide.
Trump created the voting commission after alleging, without evidence, that widespread fraud cost him the popular vote last year. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), who chairs the commission, sent a letter in June to all 50 states asking for the name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, felony record, last four Social Security digits and voting history of every registered voter. Since then, the collection effort has faced several legal challenges, including one from a commissioner who says Democratic members have been shut out of the panel's work.
EPIC's lawsuit delayed collection of data by the voting commission. After the lawsuit was filed, the White House also backed off plans to house the data on a Pentagon-operated website and instead designed a system inside the White House to take the submissions.
Even after the group lost at the district court level, the voting commission has struggled to collect data. More than a dozen states, including Maryland and Virginia, have partially or entirely rejected the request over security and legal concerns.