The Florida Constitution provides for a Right to Privacy. An article by Julie Patel, of the Sun Sentinel, "What Does Your Insurance Company Know About You?" begs the question whether Citizens Property Insurance Corporation is violating the Florida Constitution. The article could have been entitled, "What Private Secrets is the Florida Government Telling About You if You Buy Insurance From It?"
The Florida Constitution provides:
Right of privacy.–Every natural person has the right to be let alone and free from governmental intrusion into the person’s private life except as otherwise provided herein. This section shall not be construed to limit the public’s right of access to public records and meetings as provided by law.
I do not see any authorization within the Constitution for the government to require Floridians to waive these rights if they are insured by Citizens. Citizens has deemed itself part of the government for legal purposes, and Citizens executives and attorneys use that status to its advantage every chance they get.
Depsite this Constitutional prohibition, the Florida Legislature passed the following law in 2008:
627.35193 Consumer reporting agency request for claims data from Citizens Property Insurance Corporation.
Upon the request of a consumer reporting agency, as defined by the federal Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. ss. 1681 et seq., which consumer reporting agency is in compliance with the confidentiality requirements of such act, the Citizens Property Insurance Corporation shall electronically report claims data and histories to such consumer reporting agency which maintains a database of similar data for use in connection with the underwriting of insurance involving a consumer.
I am not a Florida constitutional law scholar, but I do not think the Florida Legislature can direct another government entity to violate Florida’s Constitution. Its directive to release otherwise private information may be subject to legal action, depending on the information released. Patel’s article indicates that Citizens is releasing all kinds of otherwise private information:
"Beginning September 20, 2010, Citizens will send data files containing claims and other basic policy information, including policy number, insured name, and property and mailing addresses, to credit reporting agencies…approved to receive this information," Citizens officials wrote in an email to insurance agents last month. "These CRAs usually have contracts with other insurance companies and will provide this recorded information as requested."
Many private insurers already provide detailed information about policyholders’ claims for ISO’s A-PLUS and LexisNexis’ CLUE databases, which are used by insurers to rate the risk of a potential policyholder.
"Insurers feed information about paid claims – perhaps even your inquiries about coverage that do not result in a claim – into a national database for use by insurers," according to Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, a consumer privacy protection advocacy group. "Because [the databases are] generally unknown to the public, consumers have little opportunity to prepare for an insurance review. Inaccurate or incomplete data included in a report is likely to surface only after you have been turned down for insurance or premiums for new insurance skyrocket. At this point, you, the consumer, assume the burden of proving the data wrong."
I suppose many may ask what I am going to do about this issue. The first thing is to write about it and raise awareness that insurers release and share a wealth of private information about policyholders. The second is to talk with a few colleagues who take these issues very seriously to see what can be done to stop the practice.
Consumer advocates and Florida policymakers need to address how much of their policyholders’ private information is exchanged between insurers and other businesses that profit from the exchange. Some of our most precious and sensitive information is released on the information highway for analysis and sale.