Most Americans were outraged to learn that, under the guise of fighting terrorism, the FBI and other law enforcement officials could view library records without a persons knowledge or consent. Yet how many of you know that the government, under the same guise, can access your conversations with a counselor or other mental health records without your knowledge or consent? They can, and this power is just one the Obama administration is lobbying to keep.
With the Senate Judiciary Committee in the “mark up” period of the Patriot Act largely overshadowed by the health insurance reform debate few Americans have had the chance to take a good, hard look at the bill, let alone the proposed changes. But coincidentally, the two issues are actually related. Section 215 authorizes the compulsory disclosure of “business records”, and a growing number of Americans are using their insurance benefits for mental health treatments, including psychotherapy. That is not to suggest, however, anything close to parity in terms of health insurance coverage for mental health care because we are a long way from parity. But that is the topic of a different post. Still, for those lucky enough to have mental health care provided by insurance, reimbursement requires a clinical diagnosis of mental illness. Section 215 can be used to access personal information, not from the clinician, but from the insurance companies, unbeknownst to either practitioner or patient.
Section 215 requires no proof of criminal activity before records are accessed and during hearings on the legislation FBI officials acknowledged approximately 2 of every 200 cases involving Section 215 involved cases of suspected terrorism. The vast majority of document requests in what can only be described simply as governmental data mining involved alleged drug and tax fraud cases.
Thankfully Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA) are pressing Attorney General Eric Holder for some answers as to just what the government is doing with all this information collected. Senator Feingold’s JUSTICE Act would create strong oversight over the use of Section 215 and other provisions related to privacy rights. We’ve seen what eight years of unfettered surveillance power has brought this country–we are no safer but we are more exposed.
In our fight to defend “freedom” we’ve resigned to the taking of our own. Ask yourself the following: do you know if the government has searched your home? Do you know if the government has searched your medical records? Is this the kind of country you want to live in? If the answer to any of these questions is “no” then contact your representatives and urge them to support the JUSTICE Act and restore privacy protections for all Americans.
photo courtesy of BLW Photography via Flickr