Monday, March 10, 2008

Two new California Bills threaten our privacy

The Consumer Federation of California is actively opposing two recently introduced bills in the California legislature that threaten individual privacy in very distinct and different ways.

SB 1096 (Calderon), raises significant privacy and health care concerns for patients. The bill would allow the sharing of a patient’s confidential medical information regarding prescription drugs among a pharmacy, third party corporations and pharmaceutical companies.

SB 1096 would create an exception to California’s Medical Information Act, and allow sharing of confidential patient drug prescription information without a patient’s consent. The bill’s main backer, Adheris Inc., is a subsidiary of inVentiv Health Inc., a drug marketing company. Under SB 1096, drug stores would provide confidential patient prescription information to third party businesses. The third party would prepare mailings to patients that would have the appearance of coming from the pharmacy. These third party marketing corporations would, in turn provide patient information to, and receive payment from, pharmaceutical drug manufacturers to send the mailings, ostensibly to remind patients to take their medications or to renew their prescriptions.

To read the rest of our opposition letter, click here.

AB 1899 (Cook), as the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) details, "would allow local law enforcement entities to create and manage at their discretion biometric or other automated identification systems, including DNA and facial recognition technologies. Current law provides for state and national fingerprint and DNA databases with procedures and protections."

As we at CFC have not created an opposition letter yet, I will post some of the passages of EFF's, as they raise some very, very serious concerns about this bill's implications, and the expanding role of "big government/brother" in our lives.

Government databases of individuals generally raise critical privacy and civil liberties concerns. Biometric databases are even more dangerous. Even for familiar and long-used biometrics like fingerprints, grievous errors harming innocent individuals are made.[1] And giving local law enforcement agencies unfettered discretion to create biometric databases of people who are not convicted or charged with any wrongdoing is extremely troubling. Yet AB 1899 lacks any privacy and security precautions.

Article I, section 1 of the California Constitution explicitly grants California citizens the right to privacy, providing that: "All people are by nature free and independent and have inalienable rights. Among these are... pursuing and obtaining...privacy." This right was specifically intended to "prevent government and business interests from stockpiling unnecessary information about us and from misusing information gathered for one purpose in order to serve another purpose or to embarrass us."
[2] The California Supreme Court has said that “if sensitive information is gathered and feasible safeguards are slipshod or nonexistent, or if defendant's legitimate objectives can be readily accomplished by alternative means having little or no impact on privacy interests, the prospect of actionable invasion of privacy is enhanced."[3]

The Department of Justice currently has comprehensive systems and procedures in place for gathering fingerprints and DNA from people and for identification of criminal suspects using fingerprints or DNA obtained from crime scenes (see Penal Code § 11112.1 et seq. and Penal Code §§ 295 et seq.)

Allowing every local law enforcement entity to create its own rules and procedures will lead to disparate privacy standards not to mention different qualities of information gathered. For example, facial recognition software is easily tripped up by changes in hairstyle or facial hair, by aging, weight gain or loss, and by simple disguises. There are high rates of both "false positives" (wrongly matching people with photos of others) and "false negatives" (not catching people in the database).

As identity theft becomes more prevalent, California must take steps to protect the privacy and security rights of its residents. Yet AB 1899 is utterly silent on these critical issues. Accordingly, we must oppose AB 1899. Please feel free to contact me if you have questions about our position.

Both bills are in the earliest of stages, with SB 1096 getting its first hearing on March 12th, and AB 1899 is scheduled for its first hearing on March 11th. We will be carefully monitoring their progress, and taking note of which of our representatives side with the pharmaceutical industry and the police, and which side with the California Constitution and the people.

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