ACLU of Alaska Seeks Court Order to Stop State from Publicizing Private Information of Licensed Nurses

Affiliate: ACLU of Alaska
April 18, 2005 12:00 am

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ANCHORAGE — Acting on behalf of a local nurse, the Alaska affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit seeking to bar state officials from publishing contact information for licensed nurses in its online searchable database, on its website, or on informational CDs.

“The privacy right is especially strong in Alaska,” said Jason Brandeis, the Alaska ACLU attorney who filed the lawsuit on behalf of nurse Maryjane Hinman. “When that right is infringed by the government — such as by publishing the personal address of a licensee — there should be a good reason for it, and even if there is a good reason, it must be limited in scope.”

The state has not offered a valid justification for publicizing the personal addresses of nurse-licensees, Brandeis said. The ACLU’s concern is that the public availability of addresses subjects the affected nurses to harassment, stalking, and other lesser invasions of privacy.

According to the ACLU lawsuit, Hinman was required to list either her business address, her home address or a post office box when she applied for a state nurse’s license. Like many employers, Hinman’s employer has a policy against receiving personal mail at work, leaving home or a post office box as her only options. Hinman said she shouldn’t have to pay for a post office box to keep her address private and notes that for many other licensees in similar situations, such boxes simply aren’t available. Hinman’s attorney wrote to the state requesting that her address be removed from the public database, but the state refused.

“The assault on personal privacy by the Alaska state government continues,” said Michael Macleod-Ball, Executive Director of the ACLU’s Alaska affiliate. “The state government wants to publish home addresses in this case, and in other cases, they want to mandate what you can and cannot do in the privacy of your home. There is a reason the legislature and the people of Alaska amended the state constitution to include a privacy provision — and the government just doesn’t seem to get it.”

Macleod-Ball cited the government’s failure to accommodate Hinman’s request not to list her home address and also referenced legislative attempts this year to authorize access to private medical records and to bar possession of small amounts of marijuana in the home. “This is more than a question of whether someone can keep her address private — it’s a question of how far the government can go in making public the things its citizens would rather keep private,” he concluded.

Hinman is represented in the lawsuit by Brandeis, as well as by cooperating attorneys Walter T. Featherly and Michael A. Grisham from the Anchorage office of of Patton Boggs LLP.

Brandeis said that the state will have a month to prepare an answer to the complaint, after which the court will set a schedule for trial proceedings and legal arguments.

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