New concerns about a bill designed to protect Mainers’ right to privacy have emerged, leaving its status in the Legislative Assembly uncertain.
The bill would add privacy as a natural right in Maine and protect data and electronic communications from unreasonable seizure by the government. Opponents, who filed objections recently, include First Amendment advocates as well as the Christian Civic League of Maine.
Members of the Legislative Judiciary Committee met virtually with the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Maggie O’Neil, D-Saco, on Thursday, nine months after the legislation was originally introduced. A public hearing on LD 1529, an amendment to the Maine Constitution to create a right to privacy, took place in May 2021, but no action was taken.
O’Neil came before the Judiciary Committee in an attempt to push the legislation forward. But committee members voted to file an action on the bill, giving the committee chair, Sen. Anne Carney, D-Cumberland, more time to consider whether there should be a second public hearing. Committee members have not set a date for a workshop or a second public hearing on the bill.
“It’s been a year and I wanted to take this opportunity to jog everyone’s memory a bit,” Carney said before O’Neil made his presentation.
O’Neil’s privacy rights proposal has been modified since it was first drafted last year, but so far it has not met with any opposition. A similar constitutional amendment was proposed last year by a Republican lawmaker, former Representative Justin Fecteau of Augusta. O’Neil said she worked with Fecteau to combine the bills, producing the edited version.
LD 1529 is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, among others. To pass, it would need the approval of two-thirds of the Legislature and a majority of Maine voters.
The constitutions of 13 states – including Alaska, Arizona, California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Montana, New Hampshire, South Carolina and Washington – contain specific provisions relating to the right to privacy. The constitutions of Michigan and Missouri also provide protection against unreasonable search and seizure of electronic communications or data.
The actual impact of the amendment on the right to privacy is unclear. But advocates like O’Neil said it would lay the legal groundwork to begin setting limits on the types of personal information that can be collected and who can access it, including law enforcement.
There is no explicit right to privacy in the United States Constitution.
LOOKING FOR SUPPORT
The proposed constitutional amendment would add privacy as a natural right in Maine and states that law enforcement must obtain a warrant before searching for or seizing an individual’s electronic data or electronic communications. “All natural persons have an inherent right to privacy free from intrusion, including confidentiality of personal life, personal communications, private affairs and personal thoughts or inner life of a person physics,” we read.
“We want this (amendment) to be a safety net. We want to make it more explicit,” O’Neil said of the constitutional amendment.
O’Neil said advances in technology, such as mobile phone apps, virtual reality, social media and wiretapping, have exposed everyone’s personal data to abuse.
“The privacy risks we face today are more complex and impactful than ever before,” she said.
Shoshana Zuboff, a Harvard business professor and author, was invited by O’Neil to address the Judiciary Committee. Zuboff said someone’s Facebook posts are just one example of why an amendment protecting someone’s privacy is needed.
“It’s a very difficult arena,” Zuboff said, adding that social media sites like Facebook are connected to a much larger and more organized personal data collection system.
Zuboff’s book, “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” offers a picture of how Silicon Valley and other corporations leverage user information to predict and shape their behavior.
“We need to codify a person’s right to privacy,” Zuboff said.
Although O’Neil’s bill met with no opposition last year, new concerns have been raised recently by First Amendment advocates and a group concerned that the legislation would expand protections against ‘abortion.
FIRST AMENDMENT CONCERNS
Judith Meyer, representing the Maine Press Association, New England First Amendment Coalition, New England Newspaper & Press Association, Maine Association of Broadcasters and Maine Society of Professional Journalists, filed an objection to the bill Thursday.
“We understand the need for personal privacy, especially government intrusion, but we have serious concerns that the language contained herein is too broad and will implicate First Amendment protected activities and rights under the Liberty Act. of access. Logistically, this will create havoc for businesses and organizations that collect and use personal information,” Meyer wrote in Thursday’s filing with the Judiciary Committee.
Meyer said his groups recommend that the legislation be revised to address “only government intrusion into privacy”, not private intrusion. The term “private intrusion” can be interpreted to include First Amendment-protected activities of news organizations, she said. Journalists rely on a person’s personal information, personal communications, and thoughts as a standard part of news gathering.
Mike McClellan, policy director for the Christian Civic League of Maine, also filed an objection to LD 1529. McClellan said the text of the bill regarding a person’s personal life and private affairs is “almost exactly the type of constitutional language” used by the Supreme Court of the United States. Court to “enshrine the right to abortion in the Constitution of the United States”. The league said the bill needs to be reworked to ensure the language is limited to a right to preserve personal communications and will not extend to abortion.
“The world is changing and technology is now an integral part of our daily lives,” McClellan said. “While we see the need and desire for sponsors to stay ahead of these changes, the Christian Civic League of Maine is unsure whether this bill would help or simply shift the balance in a different direction. It There are already laws that govern our privacy rights, so maybe instead of adding another law…we should better enforce the ones we have.
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