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

  • Jul. 13, 2016: ACLU Heralds Passage of Law Restricting Cell Phone Location Tracking
  • Jul. 07, 2016: ACLU Criticizes DMV Plan to Share Driver License Photos With FBI
  • Apr. 13, 2016: Medical and Privacy Groups Decry Legislation Granting Police Access to Prescription Records

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Right to Privacy Related Court Cases

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

The American Civil Liberties Union of Rhode Island today filed 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 in the backpack.

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

Uniform Controlled Substances Act (H 5469)
Category: 2017    Privacy    

Just a few years ago, the General Assembly took some important steps to protect the privacy of individuals by requiring law enforcement to have a warrant before accessing records in the state’s prescription drug monitoring program (PMP). However, this legislation seeks to undo that progress. During March, the ACLU and the Rhode Island Medical Society testified against this bill stating that the legislation would leave the prescription information of thousands of Rhode Islanders open for scrutiny by police without judicial oversight.

Claiming that the legislation would help address the serious prescription drug epidemic in our state is not enough justification to access an individual's personal medical records. All Rhode Islanders who are prescribed a controlled substance, including anti-anxiety medication, painkillers, and asthma inhalers have their medical information recorded within the database. Yet each of these records would, under this legislation, be available to law enforcement at the mere suggestion that they are necessary for a drug-related investigation. Individuals with chronic pain conditions should not have to fear being investigated by law enforcement viewing these records without context, nor do doctors need to be scrutinized without a judicial confirmation that an investigation is valid.

Cell Phone Tracking (H5518)
Category: 2017    Privacy    

This legislation submitted on behalf of the Attorney General aims to make amendments to last year's Location Tracking (H 7167, S 2403) bill which requires law enforcement to obtain a warrant before requesting location information, except in emergencies dealing with the threat of death or serious physical injury. The amendments would make specific exceptions as to when a warrant or court order is needed.

Automated License Plate Readers (ALPRs)
Category: 2017    Privacy    

This legislation sanctions the installation of automated license plate readers (ALPRs), which are as many as five cameras mounted to police cruisers or other vehicles, capable of capturing images at high speeds and across several lanes of traffic. ALPRs examine license plate data against a series of databases and store this information, along with the date, time, and GPS location of the vehicle. Prior to any use of ALPRs, it is critical that the State of Rhode Island implement clear and specific restrictions on the use of this technology, particularly by law enforcement. The ACLU testified in opposition to this legislation as it has done in the past.

Drones (H 5521, S 172)
Category: 2017    Privacy    

The ACLU testified in the House (H 5521) and Senate (S 172) Judiciary committees in support of legislation 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 require 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.

Stingrays (H 5393)
Category: 2017    Privacy    

The ACLU testified at the House Judiciary Committee regarding this legislation which aims to regulate and limit the use of cell-site simulators, or “stingrays.” Stingray devices are the next step in location tracking, designed to trick cell phones into reporting location information as if the stingray was a normal cell phone tower. Law enforcement entities nationwide install and operate stingrays, capture the cell phone location information of any who pass by, and use the information as they see fit. There is very little information available about the scope of these programs. This legislation was proposed by Blake A. Filippi (H 5393).

FBI Access to DMV Records (H 5211)
Category: 2017    Privacy    

According to a report from the General Accountability Office released in the spring of 2016, Rhode Island was set to become one of 18 states in the process of negotiating Memorandums of Understanding with the FBI to facilitate their access to driver’s license images for purposes of facial recognition matching. At that time, the ACLU raised concerns about it and the DMV agreed to not proceed with any MOU’s. This legislation, proposed by Representative Charlene Lima is important to ensuring that the privacy of every Rhode Islander is protected when they go to the DMV.