Leader Blues

Monday, February 05, 2007

EDITORIALS>>No more privacy

Generations of college freshmen had to read Aldous Huxley’s novel “Brave New World,” where over time the government had assembled the wherewithal to know everything about everybody. We have been speeding merrily along that path, lately by the exigence of terrorism. Sacrificing a few liberties for the sake of greater safety from terrorists or native criminals is supposed to be worth it.

The Arkansas legislature adds its part to the erosion of privacy from time to time. Now it is considering a bill that ought to frighten every Arkansan. It is a bill (SB 20) that advances the Bush administration’s policy of building a massive database on everyone’s prescription drugs. Sen. Denny Altes, R-Fort Smith, is the sponsor.

Every time your druggist fills a prescription that is on the federal drug list schedules II, III and IV or any other prescription that the state Health Department might designate, he or she would have to report it to the Health Department, along with the name of the patient, the patient’s identification number, the pharmacist and the prescribing physician.

Government gumshoes would monitor your medicines to see if there are tipoff signs that you are engaged in some kind of illegal activity. Then they would give the police and other law-enforcement agencies access to your prescription files, all without the customary warrant.

And who else might get access to your medical records? You can trust your government never to give it to a commercial enterprise, can’t you?

Chances are that these are drugs that you or your children take regularly for all kinds of legitimate purposes: chronic pain, anxiety, depression, glaucoma, testosterone deficiency, obesity. The list goes on.

The idea is that by watching all of us very, very closely the state might spot a druggie who is shopping for doctors to build up a big supply of a drug that he could convert to illegal production of narcotics.

But the government does not need such overreaching power over all our lives to clamp down on the occasional abuser or illegal drug maker.

The futility of this little grab for government control is evidence that we can, indeed, be both safe and free if we will merely insist upon it.