San Francisco—The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) is urging the California Supreme Court to rule that law enforcement agents need a warrant to search records revealing which Californians were prescribed controlled substances to treat conditions such as anxiety, pain, attention disorders, and insomnia.

In an amicus brief filed today, EFF told the state’s highest court that law enforcement agencies should be required to seek a judge’s approval to access such records. Controlled substance prescription records contain highly sensitive information about patients’ medical history and should be afforded the same degree of privacy as any other medical records.

“Patients are prescribed controlled substances to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, ADHD, and extreme pain from surgeries. They should be secure that no one but their medical professionals can access that information without a judge’s approval,” said EFF Frank Stanton Legal Fellow Jamie Williams. “Granting law enforcement unfettered access to prescription drugs records violates the Fourth Amendment and the California Constitution and puts the privacy of all Californians at risk.”

In the case Lewis v. Superior Court (Medical Board of California), a doctor sued the medical board for accessing his patients’ prescription records from the Controlled Substance Utilization Review and Evaluation System (CURES) database without a warrant or any suspicion of patient wrongdoing.

A state court in Los Angeles found that the patients’ privacy rights hadn’t been violated. An appeals court agreed, holding that patients can’t expect prescription records to be as private as medical records because they know, or should know, that California monitors the flow of controlled substances.

“The California Supreme Court should overrule the decision to downgrade patients’ expectation of privacy over controlled substance prescription records,’’ said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. “The court should require law enforcement to obtain a warrant supported by probable cause to access these sensitive records.”