On Nov. 1, the Constitutional Revision Commission will consider a proposal that would severely shrink the constitutional right to privacy for all Floridians. If this doesn’t scare you, it should.
Florida is one of just a few states with an explicit privacy provision in its constitution guaranteeing that every person “has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life.” This privacy amendment was added to the constitution by the people of Florida in the 1980 general election. It was intentionally phrased with broad terms “in order to make the privacy right as strong as possible,” according to the Florida Supreme Court decision, Winfield v. Div. of Pari-Mutuel Wagering in 1985.
Under our constitution, Floridians have a fundamental right to privacy that is “much broader in scope than that of the Federal Constitution,” as the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 1989.
Florida’s fundamental right to privacy protects us against a variety of governmental intrusions. It is part of the fabric of protection from surveillance and searches by government officials, and it provides us with the right to be free from government scrutiny for activities in our own homes. It also protects against intrusion into a person’s most-private medical decisions — including reproductive-health decisions — and it protects the right to marry and engage in adult consensual intimacy.
If the privacy clause of the state Constitution is amended, as now proposed, to restrict protections to “informational privacy” only, these other fundamental rights that we have enjoyed and relied upon for decades will disappear.
This weakening of privacy rights is being advanced by opponents of women’s right to choose to have an abortion. They have been eager to gut the privacy provision to ensure that it can no longer be relied upon by the courts to stop governmental intrusions into a woman’s most personal and private decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy.
Commissioner John Stemberger, president of the anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ Florida Family Policy Counsel, sponsored this proposed constitutional amendment, which would broadly eliminate many of our protections from government intrusion, leaving the constitution to protect only the privacy of our personal information. His real end game is a direct attack on women’s access to abortion, and if the proposal gains the votes of 22 commissioners, it will appear on the November 2018 ballot.
This threat is real, especially given that Stemberger is the vice chair of the committee that will oversee his own amendment. Recenlty, he came one step closer to accomplishing his goal.
While specifically drawn to create the impression that it strengthens a right to privacy relating to information that government collects on you and discloses to others about you, if this proposal passes, Floridians will lose protections against a variety of physical intrusions on our privacy by rapidly developing surveillance techniques, including the use of drones, cellphone tracking and other technologies.
It will also weaken legal barriers against searches by law enforcement. Even protection for reading and other materials that we might possess in our own homes will be diminished. And it will remove from teh state Constitution the right to make our own medical-care decisions, including end-of-life as well as a woman’s decision about whether to continue or terminate her pregnancy.
In short, the proposed amendment is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It removes many existing protections that save us from a potentially tyrannical government that could invade all aspects of our personal lives.
The people of Florida deserve honest analysis about the practical effect of proposals, especially when dealing with fundamental constitutional principles that will diminish the privacy of Floridians.
Tell the CRC to respect our privacy and not diminish our constitutional rights.
Regardless of their views on abortion, CRC members should not take away existing Floridians’ privacy protections that apply in so many areas. And it should not take away our privacy, while disingenuously claiming to be strengthening it.
Howard L. Simon is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.