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Who do you think should have access to your private medical files? You? Of course. Your doctor? Definitely. Your pharmacist? Certainly. How about the Department of Health and Human Services or, better yet, the State Bureau of Investigation? Well, the reality is DHHS and the SBI already have access to the state pharmaceutical database which means those two state agencies already know what prescriptions you are filling and they can easily deduce what ails you.

That is probably chilling enough to any of the millions on North Carolinians filling prescriptions, but now Sheriffs across the state want access too. Never mind the chilling effect that such access may have on North Carolinians seeking medical treatment. Current law is bad enough, allowing local law enforcement across the state to access the pharmaceutical database without a warrant simply by asking the SBI for the information, but removing that intermediary step will allow sheriffs or their deputies to troll through the database without any probable cause or reasonable suspicion. Previous versions of the proposal did not even require that searches of the database be related to open investigations.

Of course, sheriffs argue that they want access to the database to help protect lives because people are overdosing on prescribed painkillers. Certainly, no one wants to see a person injured or killed because she or he overdosed on legally prescribed painkillers, but what drugs and dosages a person takes should be between the doctor and patient. Putting law enforcement in the middle of this won't help people understand the dangers of taking more than the prescribed dosage. In addition, the pharmaceutical database contains prescriptions for much more than painkillers; from Methadone for pain to Desoxyn for treating children with attention deficit disorders to Viagra for, well, you know, they're all in the database.

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Toward the end of a marathon session that lasted almost 20 hours, the North Carolina House and Senate reached an agreement on HB 1403 Collect DNA Sample on Arrest and both chambers passed the measure early this morning. HB 1403 creates an end-run around the Fourth Amendment and flies in the face of the presumption of innocence by allowing law enforcement to take DNA from all individuals arrested, but not convicted of many felonies and some misdemeanors without a warrant. After an hour of impassioned debate, the House passed the bill 83-21. The Senate passed the bill with Senator Kinnaird the only no vote and with very little debate.

The primary sponsors of the bill were Senator Dan Clodfelter (D-Mecklenburg), Senator Josh Stein (D-Wake), and Representative Will Neumann (R-Gaston). When explaining the bill on the floor Senator Clodfelter commented that because this is a new proposal, the list of crimes for which one must be accused to have DNA taken is limited, but if the process goes well, the legislature should consider expanding it. This confirms what the ACLU and others have been arguing all along; taking DNA from some arrestees will lead to taking DNA from all arrestees, then for traffic stops and infractions, until we get to the point where the government can start demanding DNA from any North Carolinian. In fact, Representative Faison commented on the floor that "the problem with this bill is that it doesn't go far enough." he explained that we take blood from every newborn baby and the government ought to start doing a DNA test on that blood and entering it into state database. He concluded his comments by saying the legislature needs to start cleaning up society. His comments easily conjured up images of the "thought police." Representative Weiss, on the other hand, called the measure "1984ish" and said she could not vote for it because of the possible racial implications is has. Representative Kelly Alexander spoke last on the bill, reminding the House that "you lose your freedom a little bit at a time and you lose it to feelings of fear and uncertainty." He concluded by responding to Representative Faison and suggesting that one day the legislature could be considering a bill to allow the arrest of people because they carry an anti-social trait in their DNA and they may commit a crime in the future.

The House did secure some important privacy protections in the bill including a procedure by which the state must remove the DNA and DNA report from the databank and database if the person is acquitted or charges are dropped. This removes the burden from the arrestee to get their DNA removed and is an important protection for innocent individuals caught up by the measure. The legislators who voted against this bill all worked hard to improve the measure. Check out how your Representative voted!

NEW YORK – Requests by the North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR) for detailed information about Amazon.com customers are unconstitutional because they violate Internet users’ rights to free speech, anonymity and privacy, according to a complaint filed today by the American Civil Liberties Union, ACLU of North Carolina Legal Foundation and ACLU of Washington. On behalf of several Amazon.com customers, the ACLU intervened in an existing lawsuit brought by Amazon to stop NCDOR from collecting personally identifiable information that could be linked to their specific purchases on Amazon.

“The Constitution does not permit government agencies to conduct such sweeping collections of our personal and private information,” said Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “Disclosing the purchase records of thousands of Amazon customers would violate their constitutional rights to read and purchase the lawful materials of their choice, free from government intrusion.”

The ACLU filed the case on behalf of six anonymous North Carolina residents (Does 1-6) and Cecil Bothwell, an elected public official, who do not think the government should be able to find out the personal, private information their purchasing records reveal. The plaintiffs include:

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RALEIGH - The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of North Carolina today sent a letter to Kenneth Lay, Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR), reiterating concerns over a recent request by the NCDOR for the private records of Amazon.com customers. The letter informs Lay that the ACLU will take legal action on behalf of North Carolina residents who are Amazon customers if the NCDOR persists in its demand for their constitutionally protected private information. Specifically, the letter says the ACLU and its clients will intervene in an existing lawsuit brought by Amazon to stop the NCDOR from collecting individually identifiable information that could be linked to specific purchases made on Amazon.com.

According to the lawsuit filed by Amazon in the Western District of Washington in April, the NCDOR issued a request to Amazon for the purchase records dating back to August 2003 of sales to customers with a North Carolina shipping address. Amazon has apparently already provided the NCDOR with data about the purchases, including product codes which reveal the exact items purchased, such as books on the subjects of mental health, alcoholism and LGBT issues. Amazon has withheld individually identifiable user information, including names and addresses that could be linked back to the individual purchases, but asserts that the NCDOR continues to insist that such information be disclosed. In its letter today, the ACLU asserted that such disclosure would violate the constitutional rights of thousands of North Carolina consumers to read and purchase the lawful materials of their choice, free from government intrusion.

The following can be attributed to Aden Fine, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy and Technology Project:

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