Worried About the Government and Your Library Records?

How about the government keeping tabs on the prescriptions you are taking?

President Bush signed into law a bill to create electronic monitoring programs to prevent the abuse of prescription drugs in all 50 states.

The new law creates a grant program for states to create databases and enhance existing ones in hopes of ending the practice of “doctor shopping” by drug abusers seeking multiple prescriptions. It would authorize $60 million for the program through fiscal 2010.

The bill, signed late Thursday at the president’s Crawford, Texas, ranch, was sponsored by Rep. Ed Whitfield, a Republican representing Kentucky’s 1st District.

Glenn Greenwald provides more explanation. I have to say I like the title of his article, “Our benevolent surveillance state.” Reminds me of the term “benevolent dictator” that one can find in certain economics papers.

Is there any good reason whatsoever why the federal government should be maintaining “files” which contain information about the pharmaceutical products which all Americans are consuming? The noxious idea has taken root in our country — even before the Bush presidency, though certainly greatly bolstered during it — that one of the functions of the federal government is to track the private lives of American citizens and maintain dossiers on what we do.

[…]

The federal government data base which contains all of our controlled substance prescriptions, for instance, was mandated by a law — The National All Schedules Prescription Electronic Reporting Act — passed in 2005 by the Republican-controlled Congress (though with full bipartisan support) and signed into law by the “conservative” Leader. That law appropriates funds to each state to create and maintain these data bases which are, apparently, accessible to federal agencies, federal law enforcement officials, and almost certainly thousands of other state and federal employees (as well as, most likely, employees of private companies).

Now some might be thinking, “Well, it is a good thing for the government to crack down on people who abuse prescription drugs.” Really? Re-read this post on a man being arrested for buying too much psuedoephedrine for him and his son. And keep in mind that what prompted this story is that the Feds looked at the database to get an idea of what prescription drugs Cho Seung-hui might have been taking. Exactly what does prescription drugs have to do with the shooting? Not much, and almost certainly not in relation to prescription drug abuse.

FILED UNDER: Law and the Courts, National Security, US Politics, , , ,
Steve Verdon
About Steve Verdon
Steve has a B.A. in Economics from the University of California, Los Angeles and attended graduate school at The George Washington University, leaving school shortly before staring work on his dissertation when his first child was born. He works in the energy industry and prior to that worked at the Bureau of Labor Statistics in the Division of Price Index and Number Research. He joined the staff at OTB in November 2004.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    Hm. What about their keeping a list of everyone’s prescribing physicians, so that if they have a need for the drug info, they can subpoena those physicians and make their case in court?

  2. Steve Verdon says:

    Naw I think I’d oppose that given some of the cases I’ve read about over at Balko’s site. Afterall, why should we let lawyers decide how best to medicate a patient? Where are their medical degrees?

  3. anjin-san says:

    The Bush/neocon position has been pretty clear all along. There is no such thing as a right to privacy…

  4. Steve Verdon says:

    Well anjin-san to some extent I agree with you, my only problem is that the country was moving in this direction under Democrats as well. The War on Drugs is a war every President and candidate likes to fight.

  5. Steve Plunk says:

    Anjin-san,

    I certainly don’t agree with this move but it says the President signed a bill, which I assume means it came from the congress, which is controlled by Democrats. Last I checked they were not friends of Bush or neo-cons.

    The problem here is bipartisan and nationwide. Governments will always lust for power in even the most private matters.

  6. Anderson says:

    The legitimate issue is that people can get, whatever, OxyContin prescribed from Doctors A, B, C, D, E, etc., if they have the cash to pay for it. (I’m prety sure Blue Cross would shut me down pretty quickly.)

    As it stands, the only way to find out where Joe Blow gets his meds prescribed is to ask him. This is not effective.

    I can agree the feds have better ways to spend their time, but it seems more genuine than many things they pursue.

  7. Steve Verdon says:

    Steve,

    Actually the Bill came from the Republican controlled Congress a few years ago.

  8. Actually the Bill came from the Republican controlled Congress a few years ago.

    The President has ten days to sign a law after it passes both Houses of Congress. So I’m puzzled how it could have come from a Republican Congress several years ago.

  9. Steve Verdon says:

    Well who controll both the House and Senate in 2005? Granted, there was bipartisan support, but I’m pretty sure that in 2005, when the law was passed, both the Senate and House were controlled by Republicans.

  10. Steve Plunk says:

    Steve V.,

    My point to anjin-san is that this is a government problem on both sides of the aisle. Blaming everything on Bush and neo-cons is getting tiresome.

    I don’t agree with this type of thing but as long our elected leaders govern as our nannys we can expect more of it.

    I expect this to be more administrative rule making attached to the enabling legislation. Could be bureaucrats throwing it in or it could be actual congressional intent. The story and background are incomplete.

  11. anjin-san says:

    Steve,

    There is no doubt that both parties are weak on privacy, but well the Democrats have simply been weak, The GOP under Bush seems to have declared war on the concept. The reality is that the GOP had complete control of the federal government until a few months ago and they seemed, during that time, to view the constitution as something to line a birdcage with.

    I am perfectly happy to hold Democrats accountable for their failures. During the Clinton admin there was a move I believe came from the White House to lower mandatory reporting for bank transactions to 5k (working from memory here, so I may be off), all in the name of “fighting drugs”.

    I am not trying to portray Democrats as blameless, but today, Bush is president, and I hold him accountable for his actions, and those of his administration.

  12. Steve Verdon says:

    I am not trying to portray Democrats as blameless, but today, Bush is president, and I hold him accountable for his actions, and those of his administration.

    On this issue I agree with you here….and I think in Hell somebody just threw a snowball.

  13. Michael says:

    The President has ten days to sign a law after it passes both Houses of Congress. So I’m puzzled how it could have come from a Republican Congress several years ago.

    Easy, the President signed it years ago: http://www.talkleft.com/story/2005/08/13/714/51832