PHOENIX, Ariz. (June 15, 2022) – Last week, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey signed a bill into law that will require state and federal law enforcement officers to get a warrant before accessing the state’s prescription drug monitoring database. The law will protect patient privacy in Arizona and hinder the ever-expanding national surveillance state.
Sen. Nancy Barto (R) introduced Senate Bill 1469 (SB1469) in January. The new law prohibits the Arizona State Board of Pharmacy from releasing any information contained in the prescription drug monitoring program database (PDMP) to local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies without a warrant. Under the old law, the board could release such data if a law enforcement agency stated in writing that the information was “necessary” for an open investigation.
The Senate passed SB1469 by a 28-0 vote. The House approved the measure 46-0. With Gov. Ducey’s signature, the law will go into effect 90 days after the legislature adjourns sine die (currently scheduled for June 30).
Arizona joins 18 other states that require warrants to access prescription databases.
Law enforcement agencies often use information in state PDMP databases in the “war on drugs.” Easy access to such databases allows police to conduct fishing expeditions in order to catch doctors “overprescribing” or patients abusing prescription pain meds. According to the CATO institute, this creates a chilling effect and makes doctor’s reluctant to prescribe necessary pain medication.
During testimony in favor of the bill, CATO senior fellow Jeffery Singer said easy access to prescription information “fuels incarceration and can make people reluctant to seek medical care.” He added that pain medication should be a standard of care question, not a crime question.
IMPACT ON FEDERAL SURVEILLANCE PROGRAMS
According to a Duke Law Review article by Jennifer Oliva, the DEA often “self-issues” subpoenas, granting itself the authority to conduct warrantless sweeps of the voluminous data stored in state PDMP databases.
“These rampant law enforcement sweeps procure highly sensitive health information and raise serious constitutional privacy concerns,” Oliva wrote.
Warrant requirements at the state level slam the door on these unconstitutional data searches by federal agencies no matter what the courts say about their constitutionality.
It’s likely that information collected by the DEA, along with state and local law enforcement agencies, end up in multiple databases.
The feds can share and tap into vast amounts of information gathered at the state and local level through fusion centers and a system known as the “information sharing environment” or ISE. In other words, stingrays and access to data held by third parties create the potential for the federal government to track the movement of millions of Americans with no warrant, no probable cause, and without the people even knowing it.
Fusion centers were sold as a tool to combat terrorism, but that is not how they are being used. The ACLU pointed to a bipartisan congressional report to demonstrate the true nature of government fusion centers: “They haven’t contributed anything meaningful to counterterrorism efforts. Instead, they have largely served as police surveillance and information sharing nodes for law enforcement efforts targeting the frequent subjects of police attention: Black and brown people, immigrants, dissidents, and the poor.”
Fusion centers operate within the broader ISE. According to its website, the ISE “provides analysts, operators, and investigators with information needed to enhance national security. These analysts, operators, and investigators…have mission needs to collaborate and share information with each other and with private sector partners and our foreign allies.” In other words, ISE serves as a conduit for the sharing of information gathered without a warrant. Known ISE partners include the Office of Director of National Intelligence which oversees 17 federal agencies and organizations, including the NSA. ISE utilizes these partnerships to collect and share data on the millions of unwitting people they track.
In a nutshell, without state and local cooperation, the feds have a much more difficult time gathering information. The enactment of laws limiting or prohibiting information gathering strikes a major blow to the surveillance state and is a win for privacy.