Tuesday, October 18, 2005


How I got to these thoughts is a long muddled story.

Step one: The long-suffering spouse had a skin cancer removed from his eyelid yesterday. In the course of that, he had to sign the privacy protection document that we've all been signing for a few years now. Signing and not reading, of course. The document spells out, presumably accurately, to whom the provider can release your health information. It included Homeland Security, in the interest of national security, and to law enforcement officials for the protection of the president.

Now how on earth is my health information going to be useful in protecting the president? And how far are they willing to go to protect him? One doesn't have to think very long before coming up with absurd -but alarmingly possible- examples of how this might be used. Should HIV-positive individuals be barred from presidential appearances, lest they bleed on him? How about people with a history of mental illness? How mentally ill is mentally ill enough and who gets to decide that?

Step two: Yet another NPR story has me musing on a related privacy issue. Arlan Specter originally claimed that Harriet Miers believed the Constitution does provide a right to privacy. He has since, however, retracted his statement, apparently at the White House's behest. Now he says he must have misinterpreted her remarks.

The case that she was asked about was Griswold v. Connecticut, from 1965. I'm not a lawyer, and this is very far from my area of expertise. But I am literate, and it sure looks to me like Connecticut had criminalized any use at all of contraception. It doesn't require a very robust definition of privacy to realize that such a law has no possibility of being enforced and needs to be struck down.

Which is what the court did. And Harriet Miers either thinks this case was rightly decided or she doesn't. Arlan Specter isn't sure and therefore we're not sure.

Two questions naturally arise. Why was she being asked to comment on such a minimalist definition of privacy? Surely we can do better than that. And why this case in particular? Please tell me that we aren't headed back to a political climate where contraception is illegal or circumscribed. Are we?

My poorly-though-out position on privacy has always been that my life is an open book. If the FBI wants to get my patron records from the public library (to save you time, I check out books about yoga, cooking, knitting, religiosity, with the occasional summer-time nosedive into chicklit) or Homeland Security wants my health records (terrible allergies, by the way) then at least they're occupied and not doing something more destructive. But hold on just a cotton-pickin' minute here.

The confluence of these two completely unrelated experiences has me worried. When you add in the surreal Indiana proposal to require a permit -and a wedding- before allowing in vitro fertilization, it doesn't take a genius to notice that this could get weird and dangerous fast.

So, assuming I'm not wringing my hands over nothing, where do we go from here? All I can think of harkens back to yesterday's post. Those of us who aren't card-carrying members of the ACLU might need to consider it. There's a Constitution to protect here. Or make me another suggestion. I'm all ears.

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