Constitution Revision Commission might take away Floridians’ privacy

Shiniko R. Floyd, Orlando Sentinel

Orlando Sentinel by Howard L. Simon, Guest Columnist

October 26, 2017

Last week, the Constitution Revision Commission voted 30-2 to advance a proposal that would severely limit 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 our Florida 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. [READ MORE]

Howard L. Simon is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida.

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