ACLU of PA Says Bill Implies no Right to Privacy in Medication History

HARRISBURG - The state Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee today revised and passed legislation to conduct metadata collection of Pennsylvanians’ prescription medication records. In opposing the bill, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania suggested that the bill implies that citizens have no right to privacy in their prescription records.

“One would reasonably believe that Pennsylvanians have a heightened expectation of privacy in their medication records,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “This Senate committee clearly thinks otherwise. This vote implies that there are no barriers to the government collecting and observing a person’s prescription data, which is a window into their medical history.”

The committee amended Senate Bill 1180, introduced by Senator Pat Vance of Cumberland County, to make it easier for prosecutors to seize prescription information. As introduced, the bill required a court-issued search warrant with a standard of “probable cause” for some but not all records. The committee amended the bill to allow prosecutors to seize records under the lower standard of “reasonable suspicion,” which is the same standard used to conduct searches in public schools and prisons.

“The members of this committee believe that Pennsylvanians have as much right to privacy in their prescription records as students and inmates,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The original search provision of the bill was mediocre. The new search provision is a step backwards for healthcare privacy rights.”

Last month, a federal district court in Oregon ruled that it is unconstitutional under the Fourth Amendment for law enforcement to seize prescription data without a search warrant and with any standard lower than probable cause, the first ruling of its kind.

“The constitution was created to protect against this type of government overreach,” Hoover said. “Hopefully, the Senate can fix this affront to Pennsylvanians’ healthcare privacy rights.”

SB 1180 now heads to the full Senate for its consideration.

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