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. 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

View All Privacy Related News Releases »

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.

Attorney:
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) Died in Committee
Category: 2019    Technological Privacy    

While we supported several provisions in S 234, which addressed the sale and maintenance of consumers’ personal information by businesses, we noted that the legislation could have been 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. This bill died in committee.

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

H 5354, introduced by Representative Anastasia Williams, would have created 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, but it ultimately died in committee.

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

Although vetoed last year by the governor, S 334, which requires disclosure as to whether a property had been used to grow marijuana before the property is sold, was re-introduced this session and initially raised 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. This bill passed both the House and the Senate and was signed by the Governor.  

Health Insurance Privacy (H 5556, S 580) Passed Senate, Died in House
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 have required 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. A subsequent version of the Senate bill was amended to instead be a resolution requring the Department of Health to develop regulations with ways that providers can more clearly explain to a patient their explanation of benefits and how to opt-out of them, or how they can create EOBs that are nondisclosing. This resolution passed the Senate and is in effect, but the House legislation died in committee.

Compassionate Care Act (H 5555, S 320) Died in Committee
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 have allowed 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. This bill died in committee in both chambers.

Immunization Registry (H 5541, S 676) Passed
Category: 2019    Medical Privacy    

H 5541 and S 676 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 both the House and the Senate. 

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

Although introduced as a bill that would hold state contractors accountable for their paid work, this Orwellian legislation would have virtually ensured significant violations of personal privacy. H 5255 and S 125 would have required software to take screenshots of a contractor’s computer every three minutes, which would have then been made available to the state in “real time” in order to verify a contractor’s billed hours. This bill died in committee in both chambers. 

Roadway Surveillance (H 5042) Died in Committee
Category: 2019    Technological 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 have restricted the use of ALPRs and limited the purchasing or sharing of ALPR-obtained data between private organizations or law enforcement agencies. This bill died in committee.

Opioid Overdose Notification (H 5383, S 139 Sub A) Passed
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 allows 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 and has been signed by the Governor.