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

  • Jun. 14, 2019: ACLU Appeals Ruling in Providence Student Housing Case
  • May. 29, 2019: ACLU Brief Challenges Police Access to Prescription Database Without a Warrant
  • Jun. 01, 2018: Some RI School Districts Remain Non-Compliant with Trans Student Policy Requirement

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Right to Privacy Related Court Cases

2019: U.S. Department of Justice v. Jonas
Category: Active Case    Privacy    The "War on Drugs"    

About this Case:
This is a "friend of the court" brief filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit by the ACLU of RI, the National ACLU, the ACLUs of New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts and Puerto Rico, and the New Hampshire Medical Society. The brief is in support of New Hampshire’s resistance to an administrative subpoena it received from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, seeking two years of information from the state’s prescription drug (PDMP) database about a patient.  The brief argues that law enforcement agents need a judicial warrant in order to obtain information from state PDMP databases.

Current Status:
Brief filed in May 2019.

Nathan Freed Wessler, Robert B. Mann

Supporting Documents
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

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Related Legislation

Consumer Privacy Protection (S 234)
Category: 2019    Technological Privacy    

While we supported several provisions in S 234, which addresses the sale and maintenance of consumers’ personal information by businesses, we noted that the legislation could be strengthened in two ways in order to more effectively protect consumers. First, we emphasized the benefits of an opt-in procedure over an opt-out procedure for consumers deciding whether or not to have their data shared, as opt-in procedures are more transparent and intentional. We also offered suggestions to strengthen the remedies for violations of the law, including the ability for a successful plaintiff to recover attorneys’ fees when bringing suit.

Commission to Study Decriminalizing Sex Work (H 5354)
Category: 2019    Sexual Privacy    

H 5354, introduced by Representative Anastasia Williams, would create a commission to study the impact of decriminalizing prostitution laws in Rhode Island. The ACLU and other advocacy groups noted the disproportionate impact that arrests for prostitution have on women and the inappropriate use of police resources for a victimless crime. We testified in support of the resolution.

Marijuana Real Estate Disclosure (S 334) Passed Senate
Category: 2019    Medical Privacy    

Although vetoed last year by the governor, S 334, which would require disclosing whether a property had been used to grow marijuana before being sold, was re-introduced this session and continued raising concerns. We opposed the bill, commenting that it could breach medical marijuana patient confidentiality and that it did not differentiate between growers and large cultivators, meaning that a patient with two personal plants could be subject to exposure for their method of obtaining medication. A subsequent version of the bill which was passed out of committee removed all reference to marijuana, alleviating our concerns. 

Health Insurance Privacy (H 5556, S 580)
Category: 2019    Medical Privacy    

In an effort to protect the medical privacy of individual members on an insurance plan, H 5556 and S 580, introduced by Representative Susan Donovan and Senator Gayle Goldin, would require that explanation-of-benefit documents be sent to the member that they concern, rather than the holder of the plan. We supported this bill, noting that guaranteed patient privacy would empower members of the plan to seek the medical attention they need without worrying about their information being sent to someone else.

Compassionate Care Act (H 5555, S 320)
Category: 2019    Medical Privacy    

At the core of our constitutional freedoms is the right to self-determination, both throughout one’s life and at the very end of it. Legislation introduced by Representative Edith Ajello and Senator Gayle Goldin and supported by the ACLU would allow for certain terminally ill patients to make knowing and competent decisions about death and peacefully determine the end of their lives with dignity, autonomy, and privacy.

Immunization Registry (H 5541, S 676) Passed out of House Committee
Category: 2019    Medical Privacy    

H 5541 and S 676 would authorize the Department of Health to create an adult immunization registry upon which the burden to opt out would rest on each individual. In objecting to the bill, we noted that databases containing private medical information should instead require patients to opt in. We also expressed concern over the potential expansiveness of the registry and the data it would be authorized to collect and maintain. This legislation has passed out committee in the House. 

Computer Verification of Hours Worked (H 5255, S 125)
Category: 2019    Technological Privacy    

Although introduced as a bill that would hold state contractors accountable for their paid work, this Orwellian legislation would virtually ensure significant violations of personal privacy. H 5255 and S 125 would require software to take screenshots of a contractor’s computer every three minutes, which would be available to the state in “real time” in order to verify a contractor’s billed hours.

Roadway Surveillance (H 5042)
Category: 2019    Privacy    

Although the Department of Transportation has adopted strong privacy regulations concerning the use of automated license plate readers (ALPRs) for the state’s new tolling system, there is no law which codifies these practices. H 5042, introduced by Representative John Edwards and supported by the ACLU, would restrict the use of ALPRs and limit the purchasing or sharing of ALPR-obtained data between private organizations or law enforcement agencies.

Opioid Overdose Notification (H 5383, S 139 Sub A) Passed both House and Senate
Category: 2019    Medical Privacy    

The ACLU has been vigilant in opposing “solutions” to the opioid epidemic that compromise patient rights, including their right to confidentiality. It is for that reason we opposed both S 139 and H 5383, which would allow hospital emergency physicians in unspecified circumstances to notify the emergency contacts of a patient, without his or her consent, who has experienced a drug overdose. Among other things, the ACLU noted that some patients may go to dangerous lengths, such as avoiding medical help altogether, in order to avoid having medical personnel disclose their condition against their wishes. This bill has passed both the House and Senate.