[Hpn] FW: Signon / Homeless Surveillance

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Thu, 04 Sep 2003 09:23:55 -0700

Hey All,

The folks at EPIC have been a tremendous resource and sorely-needed allies
in the fight to keep the government's nose out of homeless people's butts.
If you or your organization would like to sign on, just follow the
directions below. Thanks!


chance martin

> From: Chris Hoofnagle <hoofnagle@epic.org>
> Date: Thu, 04 Sep 2003 12:27:24 -0400
> To: (Recipient list suppressed)
> Subject: Signon / Homeless Surveillance
> [Apologies for cross-postings.]
> Greetings all,
> I am soliciting signons for the letter below on HMIS (homeless
> surveillance).  If your organization would like to join, please send
> an e-mail to me (hoofnagle@epic.org) with your name, title, and
> affiliation by COB Monday, September 8.
> We have information about HMIS online at
> http://www.epic.org/privacy/poverty/
> Many thanks!
> Chris
> [DATE]
> Re: Homeless Surveillance
> We write to alert you to the Department of Housing and Urban
> Development's proposed guidelines for the implementation of Homeless
> Management Information Systems (HMIS).  As you are aware, HMIS is
> being implemented in order to obtain an accurate count of the
> homeless for the purpose of improving services.  While this goal
> sounds laudable, the proposed guidelines create an extremely
> invasive system of collection and use of personal information. As
> proposed, the system will expose the homeless to a degree of
> surveillance normally employed against those who have been convicted
> of a crime.
> The proposed guidelines create mandatory data collection obligations
> on Continuums of Care (CoCs) across the country.  CoCs will have to
> collect dossiers on the homeless that include their full legal
> names, dates of birth, Social Security Numbers, ethnicity and race,
> gender, veteran status, and the person's residence prior to program
> entry.  The HMIS questionnaire delves deeply into the personal lives
> of the homeless, tracking where they have been, what services they
> have used, their income, benefits, disabilities, health status,
> pregnancy status, HIV status, behavioral health status, education,
> employment, and whether they have experienced domestic violence.
> This collection of information presents major privacy and civil
> liberties risks:
>     HMIS will lay the groundwork for a central, nationwide system of
> homeless person tracking.  Although HUD has expressed that it will
> not create a nationwide tracking system, the agency's guidelines
> contain all the necessary conditions to create such a registry.
>     Police access to the HMIS database is nearly unlimited. HUD's
> proposed guidelines allow HMIS users to disclose information from
> the database for national security purposes without any showing of
> an emergency, a court order, or even a risk of attack. Secret
> Service access is similarly broad. Under the guidelines, agents from
> national security or the Secret Service could simply ask for an
> entire HMIS database and receive it lawfully.
>     HMIS places victims of domestic violence at heightened risk. Those
> who are fleeing violent partners should not have their information
> collected or transmitted to any central location. HMIS could have
> the effect of allowing abusive partners to locate victims through
> access to the database (by law enforcement officers or HMIS users).
>     HMIS, if implemented, could gravely harm individuals living with
> HIV or AIDS. The proposed guidelines call for collection of highly
> sensitive information.  Accidental or deliberate exposure of
> information in the system could subject populations to stigma or
> discrimination. 
> HUD is relying upon House and Senate Conference Report language to
> justify this invasive system of tracking. However, while Congress
> has expressed the need to have a better enumeration of the homeless,
> it has never advocated a system that builds personally identifiable
> information on each person who receives care.
> Less invasive alternatives could meet Congress' interest in
> collecting information about the homeless. HUD could instead perform
> a census-style "snapshot" of a representative population of homeless
> persons. A snapshot would be more effective because it would be more
> privacy friendly, and prevent individuals from giving false
> enrollment information.  It would also be far less expensive than
> HMIS programs.
> We urge the Committee to exercise its oversight powers to limits
> these proposed guidelines. HUD does not need to build personally
> identifiable dossiers on each homeless person in order to serve the
> population more efficiently.  We also urge the Committee to provide
> guidance on appropriate law enforcement, national security, and
> Secret Service access to HMIS. Such access should only be available
> in exigent circumstances, or when agents have a warrant issued by a
> neutral magistrate. Finally, we urge the Committee to protect
> victims of domestic violence by exempting all CoCs that provide
> assistance to victims from requirements to report
> personally-identifiable information to the system.
> Thank you for your attention to this important issue. If we can
> provide more information about privacy and HMIS, please feel free to
> call upon us. We maintain a web page devoted to privacy and poverty
> issues online at http://www.epic.org/privacy/poverty/
> Sincerely,
> Cc:    [House Committee on Financial Services]
> [Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs]
> Michael Roanhouse, HUD

chance martin, Project Coordinator
A Publication of the Coalition on Homelessness, San Francisco
468 Turk Street, San Francisco, CA  94102
415 / 346.3740-voice  415 / 775.5639-fax