Friday, September 20, 2013

Breaking down barriers. But not in a good way.

Earlier this week, I had the chance to give a talk at the annual meeting of our south central PA chapter. The chapter always likes to get an update on what up at the General Assembly, so I oblige them.

Also, they meet at a bar. So there's that.

I started by raising three issues and asked our members to note what these bills have in common:
  • The creation of a prescription drug monitoring program (House Bill 317), run by the state government, in which they would collect personal data about people who receive prescriptions for medications on Schedules II through V of the federal controlled substances act. The existing bills on this topic, including HB 317, are extremely weak on privacy protections. Among other problems, every bill allows law enforcement to snoop in the database without a search warrant and without a finding of probable cause. They never have to tell a court what they're doing.
  • The collection of DNA samples from people who have not been convicted of a crime (Senate Bill 150). DNA would be collected from people who have been arrested but not convicted of felonies and some misdemeanors and then sent to the DNA databanks of the Pennsylvania State Police and the FBI. The government would not need a court order to collect the sample.
  • The use of an administrative subpoena to obtain personally identifying information about an individual from an internet service provider in child sex offense investigations (House Bill 90). An administrative subpoena is issued by a prosecutor's office and is not reviewed by a court. Under current law, prosecutors need to obtain a search warrant from a court to get this information.
You can detect the pattern here. All three of these issues involve advances in technology and easing the government's ability to obtain personal information about private citizens. Not surprisingly, all three bills are supported by the Pennsylvania  District Attorneys Association and the Office of the Attorney General, as they are currently written.

This is a disturbing trend. We are heading into territory where government officials will use technology to break down the walls between us and them. The revelations about the NSA's metadata collection have made that obvious.

They have to be stopped. Two weeks ago, Rep. Matt Baker of Tioga County announced his intent to introduce a prescription drug monitoring bill, so last week we asked our supporters to drop a note to their state rep to ask him or her to not co-sponsor the Baker bill.

Their appetite for our personal information is insatiable, and they'll only stop if they hear an outcry from the people.