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Drug tests, census forms invading Arkansans' privacy.

Drug Tests, Census Forms Invading Arkansans' Privacy

The Census Bureau long form wants to know what time you leave the house in the morning.

A local charity is considering requiring urine tests of employees who exhibit suspicious behavior, including a "change in associates," "irritability" or "borrowing money at work."

A local insurance company kicks back a group health claim because the employee won't give them his social security number.

My mother says her age is none of my business. Bold words from a tiny, gracefully aging lady, but words uttered less and less by younger, more timid citizens when faced with the prying questions and demands of government and private snoops.

We tolerate the incredible presumption of the Census Bureau's long form because the demographic information is useful to business and government. But when do demographics become a dossier?

Confidential To Whom?

At the beginning of World War II, the "confidential" census information gathered in 1940 was used to track down American citizens of Japanese descent and ship them to concentration camps in Arkansas. The personal information we are handling over willy-nilly to the Census is confidential until Congress decides otherwise.

Have we so little sense of personal autonomy that we will allow strangers to violate our privacy and examine our bodily fluids on such flimsy pretexts? More disturbing is that my fellow entrepreneurs, those lone eagles and rugged individualists who now own prospering companies, are often leading the charge into their employee's living rooms.

Many Arkansas companies now assume the right to test their employees' urine for illegal drug use even though the employee has given them no cause for suspicion. In addition to illegal drug use, the test will also reveal if the employee is pregnant or being treated for medical problems including asthma, diabetes and epilepsy. Good stuff to know when making a hiring or promotion decision, but illegal and private.

If during the past several weeks the employee has taken Advil, Nuprin or Motrin, the test will probably indicate marijuana use. Nyquil, Sudafed or Contac will indicate amphetamine use and consumption of Andre's baked goods containing those delicious poppy seeds will reveal that your top producer is shooting up heroin.

What the test won't show is how much of the drug was used and when. It won't indicate casual use versus addiction or the level of impairment. It can't tell if the person was under the influence at the time of the test (or at work) because, in the case of marijuana, the metabolic by-products stay in the urine for weeks. Yet a $100 a day crack-head may pass because most of the cocaine is out of his body in six or seven hours. In any case, says John Chamberlain, a labor lawyer writing in USA Today, expect to be sued and often.

Danger In Numbers

Possibly the broadest threat to privacy and liberty is the increasing abuse and compilation of citizen's social security numbers by private companies and governmental agencies. East Bloc citizens have long carried a national identification number enabling their government to easily track their business, legal and civil affairs. We are headed that way with the social security number.

Federal law prohibits government agencies, with the exception of the IRS and Social Security Administration, from requiring disclosure of the number. Years ago I was taken to jail in Little Rock after a fender bender for refusing to give my social security number. The police released me when they realized they were breaking the law and at least for a time the practice stopped. Now the Arkansas Motor Vehicle department has announced plans to change your drivers license number to your social security number. They can't require it but they don't tell you that unless you object.

If the IRS or your ex-wife's attorney wants to compile a picture of your private affairs, and you have handed out the same number to creditors, licensing boards, the police, insurers, the courts, etc., it takes little more than determination and a sophisticated computer set-up to reduce your private life to a print-out available to anyone at a price.
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Article Details
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Author:Leveritt, Alan
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:column
Date:Jun 18, 1990
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