Santa Clara county is denying claims that it violated the constitution by conducting surveillance on San Jose’s Calvary Chapel. The denial is in response to an article by journalist David Zweig.
“The recent story by David Zweig has at its core false assertions and does not reflect an understanding of basic facts of the county’s public health orders or enforcement program,” the county told Fox News.
Zweig’s article claimed that the county conducted a sophisticated “spy operation” that targeted the church. The church and the county are involved in ongoing litigation.
Zweig claimed that he obtained court documents that detail how the county conducted several activities, including walking in on church gatherings, watching church activities through the fence, and tracking the congregation’s cellular mobility data, to see if the church was complying with public health mandates.
In March 2020, Santa Clara county issued a lockdown order that prevented people from going out unless for specific essential activities. Later that year, the county started allowing indoor gatherings in churches but limited them to 100 people or 25% of the capacity of the facility, whichever was fewer.
However, in May 2020, Calvary Chapel defied the county’s mandates and started holding indoor gatherings without complying with the county’s restrictions. As a result, the church is facing over $2 million in fines.
The church sued the county for violating its First Amendment and imposing excessive fines. The county responded by filing a lawsuit alleging that the church “flagrantly and repeatedly” violated public health orders and refused to pay fines.
Zweig claimed that county enforcement officers conducted extensive surveillance of the church and its members to check for compliance with public health orders. Among the measures was tracking cellular mobility data.
“The Santa Clara County health department used cellular mobility data to track how many people were attending Calvary Chapel on any given day,” Zweig wrote. “I found this information in a remarkable declaration amid the legal documents, from a professor at Stanford Law School named Daniel Ho. A research team, led by Ho, was hired to analyze the data for Santa Clara County health officers.”
The county denied using the technique to track the movements of churchgoers.
“To be clear, the county did not use cellphone surveillance to track anyone at Calvary Chapel during the pandemic,” the county told Fox News. “The article cites an after-the-fact analysis of third-party, commercially available aggregate data, done for litigation purposes in order to respond to Calvary’s own allegations in a lawsuit that Calvary itself filed.”
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