The American Civil Liberties Union hailed the decision, in a case
originally brought by the state of Oregon, as the first time a
federal judge has ruled that patients have a reasonable expectation
of privacy in their prescription records.
The ACLU had joined the lawsuit on behalf of four patients and a
physician challenging U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration efforts
to gain access, without prior court approval, to the state's
The Oregon Prescription Drug Monitoring Program database was created
by the state legislature in 2009 as a tool for pharmacists and
physicians to track prescriptions of certain classes of drugs under
the federal Controlled Substances Act.
Some 7 million prescription records are uploaded to the system
every year, according to court documents.
The state mandated privacy protections for the data, including a
requirement that law enforcement could only obtain information from
the network with a warrant.
But the DEA claimed federal law allowed the government to access the
database using only an "administrative subpoena", which does not
require a finding of probable cause for believing a crime has been
committed or a judge's approval.
U.S. District Judge Ancer Haggerty in Portland ruled that the DEA's
efforts to obtain Oregon's prescription records without a warrant
violate Fourth Amendment safeguards against searches and seizures of
items or places in which a person has a reasonable expectation of
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"It is more than reasonable for patients to believe that law
enforcement agencies will not have unfettered access to their
records," Haggerty wrote in the summary judgment opinion.
"The prescription information maintained by (Oregon) is intensely
private as it connects a person's identity information with the
prescription drugs they use," Haggerty wrote.
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; editing by Eric M. Johnson)
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