By George, we need a right to privacy amendment

Tricia Owen Freelance Writer
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It was great to hear George Stephanopoulos bring up the issue of privacy during Saturday’s presidential debate. My question is why he brought it up in the context of contraception. Our privacy is being eroded at breakneck pace at almost every level, and the ABC commentator brings it up in relation to birth control?

Mitt Romney was right to point out that no state wants to ban contraception, adding, “It’s working just fine, leave it alone,” before deferring to resident “constitutionalist” Ron Paul on the matter.

Stephanopoulos could’ve asked the candidates about any number of more relevant and realistic privacy issues.

For instance, most people think their emails and cell phones are secure, but the government routinely searches our emails and regularly taps into our cell phone signals.

Most people think their health records are private. Not so, if the government has its way. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius wants the medical records of every American to be turned over to the federal government. Of course, it’s under the auspices of comparing insurance companies’ performance under the new health care law, but the end result is the same: your medical records will be in government hands and no longer protected by doctor-patient confidentiality.

If that’s not frightening enough, the FBI’s “Next Generation Identification” program is being rolled out this month. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, FBI officials say one of their goals is “for the program to be able to track people as they move from one location to another.”

Furthermore, governments are now using our personal information for profit. The Florida DMV made $63 million last year selling the names, vehicle information, addresses and dates of birth of virtually everyone with a vehicle registered in Florida.

All issues worth discussing.

So, perhaps a more pertinent question for Stephanopoulos to ask would’ve been, “Do you support a right to privacy amendment?”

It’s high time we have one.

The dean of Atlanta’s John Marshall Law School, Richardson Lynn, agrees. The long-time civil libertarian and privacy advocate proposes the following amendment to the U.S. Constitution:

1. The personal information (name, likeness, or identifying details) of every person shall remain private and cannot be collected, stored, viewed, or distributed by any person or entity, private or public, without the person’s express written consent, except as necessary to resolve disputes, furnish public services, or collect taxes, provided that no personal information shall be retained beyond the period of time necessary for a legitimate governmental purpose. No personal information may be collected or retained by law enforcement unless the person is reasonably suspected of a crime; if no criminal charges are brought within the statute of limitations, it shall be deleted.

Now, if only someone in Congress would take the lead and try to get this passed, we could put an end to the onslaught of privacy abuses.

Tricia Owen is freelance writer in Atlanta.