HOUSTON — Confidentiality is a concept that is crucial to a number of professional relationships and has been safeguarded by a number of professional organizations for many years. Confidentiality serves to protect a client who discloses personal information to a professional who is attempting to help that individual. It is a key ethical concept and prohibits the professional from releasing such information to a third party without the client’s written approval. It applies to a number of professionals, including health care providers (including hospitals), attorneys, clergy and accountants.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union’s web site, Section 215 of the Patriot Act “allows the FBI to order any person or entity to turn over ‘any tangible things,’ so long as the FBI ‘specifies’ that the order is ‘for an authorized investigation … to protect against international terrorism or clandestine intelligence activities.’”
Their analysis points out that the “FBI need not show probable cause, nor even reasonable grounds to believe, that the person whose records it seeks is engaged in criminal activity.”
Lest this be considered an idle threat, earlier this year Attorney General John Ashcroft demanded the medical records of hundreds of abortion patients to determine if certain abortions were medically necessary. The move has been challenged by Planned Parenthood and others as a blatant invasion of medical privacy and as clearly unconstitutional.
While this instance was not, per se, a consequence of the Patriot Act, the Act only strengthens the hand of Ashcroft and other government inquisitors in such intimidating and politically motivated fishing expeditions.
The ACLU points out that these measures are a blatant violation of the Fourth Amendment “by allowing the government to effect Fourth Amendment searches without a warrant and without showing probable cause.” Section 215 empowers the government to require a library to produce records showing who had borrowed a particular book and to require health care providers to produce medical records. The First Amendment is violated by prohibiting the disclosure of such snooping to others and empowering the FBI to investigate citizens on the basis of their exercise of First Amendment activity.
Civil libertarians have denounced the Patriot Act, charging that it represents a clear and present danger to democracy. Four states and over 340 communities have passed resolutions condemning the Act in whole or in part. For more information on this movement, visit www.bordc.org.
The author can be reached at pww@pww.org.