HARRISBURG- In two separate pieces of legislation, the Pennsylvania Senate and a committee of the state House of Representatives moved to dramatically increase the amount of personal data the government collects from the citizens and residents of the commonwealth. The Senate passed Senate Bill 775 to collect DNA from people who have not been convicted of a crime while, just a few hours earlier, the House Human Services Committee passed House Bill 1651 to collect data on Pennsylvanians' prescription drug use.
"In two separate and unrelated moves, both the Senate and House showed that our government's appetite for our personal data is insatiable," said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania.
SB 775 would require law enforcement to collect DNA samples from all persons arrested for a felony or for some misdemeanors. That sample would then be sent to the Pennsylvania State Police and the Federal Bureau of Investigation and entered into their databases.
"Preconviction DNA collection will be very expensive and will increase the caseloads of the laboratories that handle the samples," Hoover said.
"There is nothing more private than our bodies. If the government wants to take a bodily sample, they must get a warrant from a court of law. SB 775 ignores the federal and state constitutional prohibitions on unreasonable searches and seizures."
A challenge to a similar federal law is currently working its way through the federal court system.
In the morning, HB 1651 passed the House Human Services Committee. Sponsored by Representative Gene DiGirolamo, the bill creates a new database of all prescriptions for drugs that are considered controlled substances under federal law.
"Chairman DiGirolamo's motivation is specific to public health concerns, and he deserves credit for continuing to explore ways to improve public health," Hoover said. "Throughout, the drafting of the bill, he consistently kept his door open to hear the privacy concerns, and we are deeply appreciative of that.
"Unfortunately, the bill simply does not have the privacy safeguards that Pennsylvanians need and that the constitution demands. It's unacceptable to allow law enforcement to access Pennsylvanians' personal healthcare information without first getting a court order, but that's what this bill does. Without further boundaries, the personal healthcare information of many Pennsylvanians will be at risk."
SB 775 now heads to the House for consideration. HB 1651 is now on the House calendar.