This afternoon, the Constitution Revision Commission will consider a proposal that would severely shrink the constitutional right to privacy for all Floridians. If this doesn’t scare you, it should.
Florida is one of just a few states with an explicit privacy provision in its constitution guaranteeing that every person “has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life.” This amendment was added to the constitution by Florida voters in the 1980 general election.
It was intentionally phrased with broad terms “in order to make the privacy right as strong as possible,” according to a 1985 Florida Supreme Court decision. Under our constitution, Floridians have a fundamental right to privacy that is “much broader in scope than that of the Federal Constitution,” as the Florida Supreme Court ruled in 1989.
Florida’s fundamental right to privacy protects us against a variety of governmental intrusions. It is part of the fabric of protection from surveillance, and it provides us with the right to be free from government scrutiny for activities in our own homes. It also protects against intrusion into a person’s most-private medical decisions — including reproductive-health decisions — and protects the right to marry and engage in adult consensual intimacy.
If our Florida Constitution’s privacy clause is amended, as now proposed, to restrict protections to “informational privacy” only, these other fundamental rights that we have enjoyed and relied upon for decades will disappear.
This weakening of privacy rights is being advanced by opponents of women’s right to choose to have an abortion. They have been eager to gut the privacy provision to ensure that it can no longer be relied upon by the courts to stop governmental intrusions into a woman’s most personal and private decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy.
Commissioner John Stemberger, president of the anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ Florida Family Policy Counsel, sponsored this proposed amendment, which would broadly eliminate many of our protections from government intrusion, leaving the constitution to protect only the privacy of our personal information. His end game is an attack on women’s access to abortion.
If the proposal gains the votes of 22 commissioners, it will appear on the November 2018 ballot. This threat is very real, especially given that Stemberger is the vice chair of the committee that will oversee his own amendment.
While drawn to create the impression that it strengthens a right to privacy relating to information that government collects on you and discloses to others about you, if this proposal passes, protection against a variety of physical intrusions on our privacy could also be undermined by rapidly developing surveillance techniques, including the use of drones, cellphone tracking and other technologies.
It will also weaken protection for possession of reading and other materials that we might possess in our homes. And it will remove from our constitution the right to make our own medical-care decisions, including end-of-life as well as a woman’s decision about whether to continue or terminate her pregnancy.
The proposed amendment is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It removes many existing protections that save us from a potentially tyrannical government that might wish to invade all aspects of our personal lives. The people of Florida deserve honest analysis about the practical effect of proposals, especially when dealing with fundamental constitutional principles that will diminish the privacy of Floridians.
Regardless of their views on abortion, the CRC should not take away existing privacy protections for all Floridians that apply in so many areas. It should not take away your privacy, while disingenuously claiming to be strengthening it. Join us in telling the CRC to respect our privacy and not diminish our constitutional rights.
This piece first appeared in The Gainesville Sun