Panama City News Herald Editorial
November 6, 2017
Don’t make the definition of privacy too narrow.
A member of Florida’s Constitution Revision Commission is proposing an amendment that would add 10 words to a section of the state constitution — and a lot of ambiguity.
Committee vice chairman John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney appointed by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, is sponsoring a public proposal by former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell to change Article I, Section 23 of the Florida Constitution to read: “Right of privacy. Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life with respect to privacy of information and the disclosure thereof except as otherwise provided herein.” (The new language is in italics.)
Stemberger has said the new clause restores “the original intent.” He cites the “rapid growth of technology resulting in the increased invasion of personal and private information through various forms of surveillance and the monitoring of personal electronic devices” as cause for additional protection of Floridians’ privacy rights.
But others are more skeptical. Abortion-rights activists fear the change might open the door to restricting access to abortions, such as via waiting periods or parental consent laws. Stemberger (who is president and general counsel of the Florida Family Policy Council, which opposes abortion) has called those claims “intellectually dishonest.” Certainly if the goal is to influence abortion policy, then the commission should be upfront about it.
Meanwhile, Barbara Petersen, president of the First Amendment Foundation, wrote the commission last week expressing concern that if the proposal were adopted it would broadly expand legislative powers to “provide by law” that certain “private” information is not public record. Since state law already exempts from public disclosure medical information, personal financial information and even home addresses in some situations, she wonders what the goal of the amendment is. She questions whether under cover of the revised constitution, lawmakers may deem “private” text messages between legislators and lobbyists on private phones from public disclosure.
Given the fact that every year the Legislature seeks to erode the Sunshine Law — and sometimes succeeds — by exempting more and more material, her mistrust is well-founded. [READ MORE]