Sheriffs in North Carolina are demanding access to state computer records identifying anyone in the state with prescriptions for powerful painkillers and other controlled substances. The obvious intrusion into the privacy of citizens is being justified as potentially allowing police to make more drug arrests.
The dragnet would pull in thirty percent of the citizens who have at least one prescription for a controlled substance. That is nearly 2.5 million people.
Such a proposal should result in public outcry and recrimination. However, the legislature is considering the request.
It is astonishing that we have come to a point where such a demand is considered plausible. We are quickly turning into a fishbowl society where every aspect of our lives remain under government surveillance and monitoring. This is a change in our country, which is based, as stated by Louis Brandeis, “the right to be left alone.” There are any number of things that can make it easier for the government including total access to financial and medical records as well as discretionary searches and seizures. Privacy often loses when “balanced” against claims of crime fighting. As citizens become more accustomed to government intrusion, it makes further intrusions possible. The Katz test premises the right of the government to engage in warrantless surveillance on the “reasonable expectation of privacy of citizens.” As those expectations fall, the power of the government increases — creating a downward spiral.
Privacy remains an abstraction that fades away in the presence of “tough on crime” rhetoric. What concerns me is that an association of sheriffs would have so little appreciation for core privacy values and traditions. As Brandeis observed in his dissenting opinion in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928):
Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficent. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.
Source: News Observer