ACLU Utah, ACLU motion challenges DEA warrantless access to Utah drug database

Law enforcement in Utah have used administrative subpoenas to gain access to prescription drug records.
Law enforcement in Utah have used administrative subpoenas to gain access to prescription drug records.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Utah and the national ACLU have taken to the courts to challenge the Drug Enforcement Administration's warrantless access of private prescription records from the Utah Controlled Substance Database (UCSD), which houses data on patients who take prescription medication that is listed under the Controlled Substance Act.

The civil liberties groups filed a motion to intervene in U.S. District Court in Utah on behalf of UCSD's members, which number about 1,700, and other groups whose members have had their prescription privacy violated. While Utah enacted a law in 2015 requiring a warrant before law enforcement can obtain those records, the DEA has gotten around that requirement by relying on administrative subpoenas that don't require them to cite probable cause and which are not under judicial oversight.

“Utah law and the Fourth Amendment clearly require the DEA, and any other law enforcement agency, to get a warrant before searching through the highly private and personal ‘digital medicine cabinets' of thousands of Utahns,” ACLU of Utah Legal Director John Mejia said in a release emailed to SCMagazine.com. “Utah's law was passed with overwhelming support by Utah legislators and the general public, who clearly appreciate the need to protect the privacy of all Utahns from warrantless government searches.”

The civil liberties organizations argued in court documents that “if the DEA were to obtain further prescription records from the UCSD without obtaining a warrant based on probable cause, it would be able to learn what Schedule II –V medications individuals are taking and, by extension, the nature of their underlying medical conditions.” 

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