Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Defending & Solidifying Your Right to Privacy

by Kyle Michaelis
Although not an idea which anyone but the most die-hard libertarian is likely to embrace completely without hesitation, the time has come to affirm and define an inviolable right to privacy in the state of Nebraska's Constitution and, ultimately, the U.S. Constitution.

Presenting some danger in the age of terrorism and when science and medicine have so blurred the lines between life and death, it is precisely the challenges these issues present to the traditional court-held doctrine that make it so imperative that a concrete and true standard for the right to privacy be recognized before political pressures are allowed to chip away at long-standing freedoms piece-by-piece.

The Omaha World-Herald reports:
Worries about creeping government intrusion into people's lives are behind a proposal to include a right to privacy in the Nebraska Constitution.

Legislative Resolution 254CA would prohibit the state from making or enforcing "any law which infringes upon or interferes with the privacy of the person, family, home, property, documents, correspondence or information of any person."

Laws restricting privacy rights would be allowed only to protect the rights of others and if they are the only means to ensure public safety.

The proposal is the brainchild of two Lincoln attorneys, David M. Williams and former state insurance director Robert Lange, and State Sen. David Landis of Lincoln.

Lange said his interest comes from seeing what he called "an erosion of individual privacy and civil rights" over the past decade or so. He has been especially concerned about the Patriot Act, passed in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"We want to have the right balance so our individual privacy isn't a fatality of trying to increase security," he said. Including privacy in the Constitution would force legislators to think more carefully before enacting laws that could infringe on individual rights, he said.

Contrary to what some people believe, the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee Americans a right to privacy. The U.S. Supreme Court has decided a number of cases based on privacy rights "implied" in the Constitution.

If Nebraska added a constitutional privacy right, it would be at least the 11th state to do so, Lange said. Florida, Hawaii, California and Louisiana are among states that include privacy in their constitutions.

LR 254CA will be heard by the Judiciary Committee at 1:30 p.m. Thursday. The measure would have to be approved by the Legislature and by Nebraska voters to become part of the state constitution.

Of course, any recognition of the "privacy of the person" is likely to make this proposed Amendment anathema to the anti-abortion crowd because such is already a sizable chunk of the reasoning behind Roe v. Wade and similar decisions. How unfortunate that a single issue so easily manipulated should likely cloud the debate and stand in the way of voters demanding and asserting their own individual liberties.

With new technology, the ability of government, corporations, or other people to intrude into our lives will be limited only by the principles we uphold and the standards we expect. The encroachment will not end - nor will the dangers already evidenced by the Bush Administration of an executive branch without proper regard for institutional and constitutional checks on its authority.

Thanks to Sen. Landis and company for doing what they can to bring this essential idea to the people of Nebraska. Hopefully, this will start us along the path as citizens of the state and nation to thinking about and, if need be, fighting for rights we have too long taken for granted without exercising the proper cares to see that they are shared by our children, part of their birthright as human beings and American citizens.

If the legislature will not act (as I suspect), how nice it would be to, for once, see a statewide petition supporting a constitutional provision that actually protects people's rights rather than taking them away. Dare I even dream of such a possibility? Who among us - I ask - is willing to take the lead for a better state that will stay true to our highest principles and our most freedom-loving heritage?


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