Privacy Issues The ACLU of Rhode Island is Involved With - Court Cases, Legislation, News Releases


Protecting Civil Liberties in Rhode Island for Over 50 Years



“The right to be left alone,” U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis noted more than 100 years ago, is a basic human right, and the ACLU has vigorously fought to promote that principle and limit government intrusion and snooping into one’s private affairs.

Unfortunately, privacy laws have failed to keep pace with the many technological advances that put our privacy at greater risk than ever before. In response, the ACLU of Rhode Island is working hard to ensure that your privacy is protected in the online and digital world we live in. 

Right to Privacy in the News

  • Dec. 12, 2017: ACLU Applauds New Regulations Protecting Privacy of Toll Gantry Information
  • Oct. 05, 2017: RI DOT Plans To Adopt Toll Gantry Regulations Without Any Privacy Protections
  • Jul. 20, 2017: Statement in Response to Governor’s Signing of “Medicine Cabinet” Bill

View All Privacy Related News Releases »

Right to Privacy Related Court Cases

2015: J.A. v. Town of Tiverton
Category: Due Process    Privacy    Students' Rights    

About This Case:
This is a federal lawsuit against Tiverton police and school officials over an incident in which an 8-year-old girl was removed from a school bus, had her belongings searched, was taken alone to the police station without her parents’ knowledge, and then held and questioned at the police station for several hours before being released. The seizure, detention, and interrogation of the young child were based solely on unsubstantiated claims from another child that the girl was carrying “chemicals” in her backpack, and occurred even after the police found nothing suspicious in the backpack.

Current Status:
Lawsuit successfully settled in June 2017.

ACLU Cooperating Attorneys:
Amato A. DeLuca, Miriam Weizenbaum

Supporting Documents
2015: Davis v. Division of Motor Vehicles
Category: Due Process    Privacy    

2/6/2015 Update: In response to a lawsuit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island, the Division of Motor Vehicles agreed to the entry of a court order Friday that will require the agency to first adopt regulations through a public process before using a new database designed to identify and possibly take action against uninsured drivers.


This lawsuit, filed by ACLU volunteer attorney Albin Moser, asks the court to stop the implementation of the Uninsured Motorists Identification Database until the Division of Motor Vehicles adopts appropriate regulations with public input. The DMV is establishing the database, designed to identify uninsured motorists, without first establishing any regulations to prevent the improper disclosure of drivers’ personal information, avoid mistaken registration revocations, or to otherwise ensure that the program is properly administered by the private out-of-state company contracted to run the program. The failure to establish these regulations is a violation of the Administrative Procedures Act and the state law that established the database.

The ACLU’s concerns about implementing the program without any public standards are not without justification, as it has sued the DMV a number of times in the past over regulatory lapses that have adversely affected motorists. In 2012, for example, the ACLU successfully sued the DMV after it refused to reinstate a person’s driver’s license based on a “policy” that appeared nowhere in the agency’s rules and regulations. In 2010, the ACLU successfully settled another case after the DMV advised thousands of motorists that their license and registration would be suspended due to alleged unpaid fines that were the result of incidents occurring on “00/00/0000.”

Supporting Documents

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Related Legislation

Cell Phone Tracking (S 2291)
Category: 2018    Privacy    

This legislation submitted on behalf of the Attorney General aims to make amendments to the 2016 Location Tracking (H 7167, S 2403) bill which requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before requesting cell phone location information, except in emergencies dealing with the threat of death or serious physical injury. The amendments would make  exceptions as to when a warrant or court order is needed, and dilute the provisions of the 2016 law designed to protect cell phone users' privacy. This bill is scheduled for consideration in the Senate Judiciary committee.

State Contract Computer Hours Verification (S 2660, H 7781)
Category: 2018    Technological Privacy    

Senate bill 2660 and its companion in the House 7781, would require the use by certain state contractors of computer software designed to verify the hours worked on computers for that contract. While the concept is well intentioned, despite multiple hearings on this bill, it is yet to be made clear by its proponents how the bill's goal of providing real time access to data can be reconciled with the bill's language stating the software "must not capture any data that is private or confidential on individuals." In terms of real time access to data, this presumably would involve the use of keylogging software recording anything and everything a user inputs into their computer. The bill also requires the software to take a screen shot of state funded activity every three minutes. The ACLU testified with concerns regarding these inherent privacy intrustions in the bill, which has not left committee. 

Maternal Mental Health (H 7695)
Category: 2018    Medical Privacy    

House bill 7695 would require women be given a mental health screening before being discharged from a birthing facility. While addressing the serious issue of maternal mental health disorders is a laudable goal, this particular bill would set a troubling precedent for the privacy and treatment of new moms in Rhode Island.

Among many issues, the ACLU takes issue with the requirement of the screenings and believes they should be done with consent and not on an automatic and mandatory basis. The experience of giving birth is difficult enough for the mother, with or without a history of mental health disorders, only to then be put through a screening process to prove her mental fitness before leaving the hospital with her baby. It is worth noting that no fathers, even those with known, serious mental health problems, are required to undergo such a screening before bringing their child home. The ACLU testified in opposition to this bill. After receiving a hearing, no further action has been taken.

Adult Immunization (H 7882, S 2530)
Category: 2018    Medical Privacy    

The ACLU of Rhode Island opposes H-7882 and S-2530, which would require that all adult immunization medical information be included in a DOH database unless the person opts out. The DOH has already shown that it does not consider patient confidentiality a priority, as just last year they supported legislation giving law enforcement access to the Department’s prescription drug monitoring database without a warrant, and just this year has proposed multiple regulations expanding third party access to other large agency databases with confidential patient information.

This proposed registry is yet another warehouse of private health data for which there is no reason to believe will remain entirely confidential. The ACLU believes that when it comes to important medical information, it should be up to the patient to opt in, rather than impose the burden on them to opt out. This legislation remains in the House Health, Education, and Welfare Committee where it has already received a public hearing and is scheduled to be heard in the Senate Committee on Health & Human Services. Read the ACLU's full testimony here.

Third Party Access to Drug Prescription Database (H 7867)
Category: 2018    Privacy    

The ACLU opposes this bill, which seeks to create yet another exception to the confidentiality of the state’s prescription drug monitoring database, allowing health insurers, workers’ compensation insurers and HMOs, among others, to access private prescription information.

Just last year, the General Assembly passed legislation allowing law enforcement agencies limited access to the database without a warrant.  That would make H-7867 the eleventh exemption to the confidentiality of this database, highlighting a serious concern for the need to keep this intimate health care information private to the maximum extent possible. This information should not become a general warehouse available to more and more third parties for additional uses.  This bill currently sits in the House Health, Education, and Welfare Committee where it has receieved a public hearing. Read the ACLU's full testimony here

Compassionate Care (H 7297)
Category: 2018    Medical Privacy    

Legislation sponsored by Representative Edie Ajello (H-7297) seeks to make Rhode Island the next state to adopt “death with dignity” legislation, allowing terminal patients to seek medication to end their lives. The ACLU submitted testified to the House Health, Education and Welfare committee in support of this legislation. The ACLU noted that, while some individuals facing terminal illnesses may choose to pursue aggressive medical treatment others, in conjunction with their families and their doctors, wish to end their lives with dignity. By rejecting the validity of that second option, Rhode Island law interferes in private medical decisions, severely limiting the autonomy of patients and their families to determine the appropriate course of care.

This bill currently sits in the House Health, Education, and Welfare Committee where it has received a public hearing. Read the ACLU's full comments here

Drones (H 7756)
Category: 2018    Technological Privacy    

The ACLU supports H-7756, introduced by Rep. Filippi, to restrict the use of unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly referred to as drones, by law enforcement. Through a combination of increasingly cheaper, more sophisticated technology and financial incentives provided by the federal government, law enforcement entities nationwide have begun obtaining and using drones. This legislation would generally require that a warrant based on probable cause or reasonable suspicion be obtained prior to drone surveillance. It also requires that surveillance be conducted only on an articulated target and that any data captured on a non-target individual must be deleted within 24 hours. No action has been taken on this bill since it was heard.