Community demands accountability after King County allowed ICE agents to access personal data

A community is demanding accountability after King County shared personal information to ICE agents -- despite a law against it.

Auditors say preventing gaps in training could have prevented it.

People gave angry public comment at Tuesday's King County Law and Justice Committee meeting.

“We are extremely disappointed,” said Victoria Mena of Colectiva Legal del Pueblo.

“Now because of this breach, people are more afraid than ever. They’re worried to be thrown out of the country, they’re worried about their lives, they’re worried about their families,” said Eva Lopez, who identified herself as a concerned citizen in Seattle.

People are demanding answers, two weeks after a King County audit showed ICE agents were able to log in more than 1,000 times to access King County Jail databases – accessing addresses and photos.

Plus, the Sheriff’s Office sent 25 unredacted case files that ICE requested.

“How’s it going to be repaired? What’s going to happen moving forward?” Lopez asked.

Auditors gave an update Tuesday on how the failure happened.

“They were not trained how to comply,” said Megan Ko, one of the King County auditors.

The Office of Equity and Social Justice, or OESJ, which was responsible for making sure employees were trained, didn’t get to it because there was no deadline, according to auditors.

“OESJ told us it prioritized other work, namely language access plans, because these plans had concrete deadline specified in code,” Ko said.

It means although King County passed an ordinance last February that prohibits ICE agents from accessing personal data without a criminal warrant, that continued to happen for about a year.

“ICE regularly accessed county data due to code violations by county agencies,” Ko said.

Within one week of finding out about the problem from auditors, the King County jail deactivated decade-old ICE agent log-ins that allowed them to access the system.

“The fact there was a simple deactivation just shows how this was not a priority for many of these agencies. This must be a priority issue,” said Monserrat Padilla, with the Washington Immigrant Solidarity Network.

“Who is going to be held accountable?” Lopez asked.

KIRO7’s Deedee Sun took that question to the chair of the King County Council Law and Government Committee, Councilmember Larry Gossett.

“I think that aspects of the government have already been held accountable,” Gossett said. “It was a problem with a government as a whole, we are on top of it, and it’s going to be dealt with,” he said.

Immigrant advocacy groups also asked for more resources to help any immigrants impacted by the data leak.

“We know there was, there had to have been some impact to our community,” Mena said.

“Should that evidence come to light, do you think that’s something county council will provide, or at least discuss?” Sun asked Gossett.

Gossett said if it can be proven that residents were impacted by the breach, then council would take appropriate action.

“Absolutely, the impact to citizens should be properly, you know – reimbursed or given some recognition from their government,” Gossett said.

Some of the auditors' recommendations have already been implemented. For instance, auditors said the King County jail agreed to no longer ask for citizenship status moving forward.

The jail currently has data on more than 40,000 foreign nationals, auditors said.

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