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

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“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. 01, 2018: Some RI School Districts Remain Non-Compliant with Trans Student Policy Requirement
  • 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

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.

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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

Real Estate Marijuana Disclosure (H 8354, S 2442) VETOED
Category: 2018    Medical Marijuana    Privacy    

The state's medical marijuana law was crafted to put a high priority on patient privacy, but that consideration has been placed on the back burner a number of times in recent years in the name of public safety. This year, the General Assembly sought (H 8354, S 2442) to require the disclosure in real estate transactions if the cultivation of any marijuana had taken place on the premises. Proponents of the legislation state that cultivation of marijuana can have some lasting effects on the building in which the marijuana is grown, but that is true for a great number of behaviors that aren't required to be disclosed. This proposal, however, has the effect of undermining the privacy of medical marijuana patients while also putting them in a double-bind of having to either admit on paper to the growing of marijuana (which is being increasingly cracked down on by the federal government) or be accused of fraud for not disclosing their grows. Despite testimony from the ACLU and real estate professionals, the House and Senate approved the legislation in June. 

UPDATE: On July 2, Governor Raimondo vetoed this legislation at the urging of the ACLU of RI and other organizations.

Overdose Confidentiality (S 2545A) Passed Senate; Died in House
Category: 2018    Medical Privacy    

Another well-intentioned piece of legislation, dealing with the opioid overdose crisis (S 2545A), threatened to erode the trust addicted people have with their doctors by allowing doctors to break confidentiality and tell family members and friends of a person's addicted status - even over their express wishes - in the case of an overdose. The ACLU testified that such a proposal undermines doctor-patient confidentiality and could leave those with addictions, not yet ready to reveal their illness to their families, less likely to seek much-needed treatment. The Senate approved the legislation in June, but it did not receive a hearing in the House.

Cell Phone Location Tracking (H 7451, S 2291) Passed Senate; Died in House
Category: 2018    Privacy    

In 2016, the General Assembly approved ACLU-backed legislation requiring law enforcement to obtain a warrant before requesting cell phone location information, except in emergencie dealing with the threat of death or serious physical injury, and requiring you to be notified if your location is tracked. Almost immediately, the Attorney General sought to undermine that law by promoting legislation (H 7451, S 2291) allowing law enforcement to keep you in the dark - perhaps indefinitely - if your location has been tracked. The Senate approved the legislation in May and the House Judiciary committee followed in June but - in a textbook example of why the ACLU remains at the State House until the very end - the bill was sent back to committee on the last day of the session and never reemerged.

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

While addressing the serious issue of maternal mental health disorders is a laudable goal, legislation under consideration this year (H 7695) requiring a mental health screening for mothers before release from a birthing facility would have set a troubling precedent for the privacy and treatment of new moms

The ACLU raised a number of issues in testifying against the bill, arguing that screenings 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. No fathers are required to undergo such a screening before bringing their child home. The legislation did not move out of committee.

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

Some of the most concerning civil liberties legislation this year came in the form of legislation dealing with your health. This included bills (H 7882 and S 2530A) to require that all adult immunization records be automatically included in a DOH database unless the patient opts out. This was the latest in a series of bills and regulatory measures from the DOH weakening patient confidentiality. Just last year, for example, the agency supported legislation giving law enforcement access to the Department’s prescription drug monitoring database without a warrant. 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. The Senate passed the legislation in May, but the House did not. Read the ACLU's full testimony here.