The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency wants to access a Utah database of confidential prescription records. But the feds have a problem. The state requires a warrant before law enforcement agencies can access the Utah Controlled Substance Database. The DEA doesn’t have one. Not to be deterred, the drug police have sued the state in federal court to gain access to the records.
No matter what the courts say, Utah should simply refuse to comply.
According to the ACLU, Utah created the UCSD in 1995. It tracks prescriptions of certain drugs dispensed by pharmacies to help physicians prevent drug overdoses and to assist doctors in spotting signs of drug abuse.
Unsurprisingly, once the database was in place, police abused it.
In 2014 it was discovered that one Utah detective had searched the prescription drug records of at least 480 full-time employees of Utah’s largest fire agency without judicial oversight, and improperly charged at least two employees with crimes they didn’t commit. In response, Utah’s legislature in March 2015 amended the law that regulates access to the UCSD, requiring law enforcement officers to obtain a probable cause warrant from a court before they can gain access to the database.
Enter the DEA. According to the ACLU, the agency has issued several administrative subpoenas, attempting to access the records. Unlike judicial warrants, subpoenas don’t require probable cause. Federal agencies themselves issue them when investigators believe the records may prove “relevant or material” to an investigation.
So far, the state has refused to comply with the subpoenas because they violate state law, not to mention the Fourth Amendment. That led the DEA to sue, hoping a federal judge will compel the state to honor one of the subpoenas. The ACLU has entered the fray in an effort to derail federal efforts.
Utah’s warrant requirement prevents law enforcement agents from going on the sort of fishing expedition that ensnared hundreds of innocent firefighters and paramedics, exposing their most private information to unjustified government scrutiny. But the law doesn’t stop law enforcement agencies from doing their job. Police can still access records in the UCSD when they have demonstrated to a judge that there is probable cause to believe a crime has been committed.
So, what happens if a federal judge ultimately rules the state must comply with the subpoena?
The state should continue to ignore the feds.
Utah’s first responsibility is to protect the rights of Utahans, not to kowtow to federal thuggery. A federal judge does not have any more authority to compel the state of Utah to violate its own laws – – laws meant to protect basic constitutional rights – – than do DEA agents, or any other federal employee.
This is exactly the strategy James Madison recommended when the federal government commits an “unwarrantable” act – a refusal to cooperate with officers of the Union.
Federal agencies will continue to violate even our most basic rights until state and local government learn to say, “No!”