by Jon Sanders
Director of the Center for Food, Power, and Life, Research Editor | John Locke Foundation
Senate Bill 616, to let police access without a warrant the online database of patient prescription records for suspects involved in an active drug investigation, has now passed both chambers of the legislature.
The bill is known as the “HOPE Act,” a nice, euphemistic acronym (for “Heroin & Opioid Prevention & Enforcement”). Presumably the “HAPPY Act” (for “Help Abolish Prescription Privacy, Y’all”) was a bit too informal, though that would get closer to the underlying Fourth Amendment issue with the bill.
Other states have witnessed abuses of such an overbroad police power, as Julie Havlak writes for Carolina Journal:
[T]he American Civil Liberties Union had pointed to a debacle in Utah, where similar legislation went wrong. In 2013, a detective accessed the medical records of 480 employees of the local fire department, misinterpreted their information, and charged two firefighters with crimes they didn’t commit.
“That really put those first responders through a really painful and horrible experience, because the records were broadly accessed by law enforcement without a warrant,” said Sarah Gillooly, ACLU N.C. director of Political Strategy and Advocacy. “We have seen that permissiveness [with access to the CSRS] in other states, and we have seen it be abused or misused.”
Utah overhauled the law in 2015, reinstalling a probable cause warrant from a court as a requirement for accessing the CSRS.
Other states also have what Gillo0ly considers lenient standards for accessing the CSRS, but the HOPE Act would make North Carolina the first state to allow law enforcement such broad, sweeping access without a warrant.