The Maine Legislature Judiciary Committee voted Jan. 27, 2022 to table LD 1529, “Resolution, Proposing an Amendment to the Constitution of Maine To Create a Right to Privacy.” The bill was introduced in May, 2021 and proposes changes to Article 1, §1 and §5, and the addition of §25, “Privacy.” The MPA Legislative Committee submitted testimony Jan. 24, 2022 opposing the bill, and maintains its stance after new amendments were since introduced which the committee feels do not address concerns for the future of journalists and information gathering.
The changes to Maine’s constitution would provide a natural right “of privacy” and protections against unreasonable search or access to “electronic data or electronic communications.” Original language provided for freedom from “governmental and private intrusion” which includes “a natural person’s interaction with an Internet, communication or other electronic data service does not diminish the natural person’s reasonable expectation of privacy.”
MPA Legislative Committee member Judy Meyer authored the testimony on behalf of MPA, New England First Amendment Coalition, the New England Newspaper & Press Association, the Maine Association of Broadcasters, the Society of Professional Journalists Maine and SPJ New England. The coalition felt the bill failed to adequately preserve First Amendment rights for news gathering organizations in its efforts to secure a right to privacy for all.
“People deserve privacy,” Meyer wrote, “but there must be a balance between privacy and public access, between shielding personal information and allowing businesses to use that information to serve customers, between privacy and First Amendment freedoms, and between blocking access to all private communications and thoughts – even if a person chooses to make private thoughts public on social media or other forums.”
The testimony suggested addressing governmental intrusion only, striking “private intrusion” for unintended consequences – as other states with similar provisions are experiencing – to organizations and individuals which collect data for the public good.
“If LD 1529 moves forward as written, and goes to referendum and is adopted, the Constitution can’t be overridden through legislation and the damage would be real … We ask that this Committee compare this overly broad language with the work being done in other states to protect individual privacy, and proceed with a more balanced approach, perhaps doing so through legislation that could be amended if or as needed.”
A recent amendment revealed a shorter passage designated for Article 1 §25, a provision the MPA still feels is inadequate for First Amendment protections: “All natural persons have an inherent right to privacy that is free from intrusion, including privacy of a natural person’s personal life, personal communications, private affairs and personal thoughts or inner life.”
The Judiciary Committee did not indicate when LD 1529 would return to its work session agendas.