Vice Squad
Tuesday, February 10, 2004
"Negligible" Intrusions Upon Privacy

This Associated Press story in today's Chicago Tribune (registration required) concerns people who have a difficult time urinating into a cup on demand: "Their problem, a little-known phobia known as paruresis, or shy bladder syndrome, isn't new. But the intensely personal malady is getting some unwelcome exposure, an unforeseen consequence of widespread workplace drug testing." The Trib article tells the story of a man who was fired from his job at a Caterpillar plant in Georgia for his inability to produce a urine sample within the requisite three hours. This seems to me to be a very fair way for managers to implement downsizing.

The Trib story suggests that things might improve. What, silly drug testing eliminated, you ask? Well, er, no -- it's just that testing methods that employ hair, saliva, or sweat are growing in popularity. Keep your eye on unemployment rates among bald men.

The Supreme Court is a big fan of urine tests, at least when they are foisted upon schoolkids. Here's a sample from the majority opinion in Vernonia Sch. Dist. 47J v. Acton (94-590), 515 U.S. 646 (1995), upholding a school district's policy of drug testing student athletes: "Under the District's Policy, male students produce samples at a urinal along a wall. They remain fully clothed and are only observed from behind, if at all. Female students produce samples in an enclosed stall, with a female monitor standing outside listening only for sounds of tampering. These conditions are nearly identical to those typically encountered in public restrooms, which men, women, and especially school children use daily. Under such conditions, the privacy interests compromised by the process of obtaining the urine sample are in our view negligible." Supreme Court to those with paruresis: too bad you don't share our view that the intrusion is negligible.

Later, the Court extended its protection of drug testing to all districts that test not just student athletes, but all students involved in extracurricular activities at school: Board of Ed. of Independent School Dist. No. 92 of Pottawatomie Cty. v. Earls (01-332) 536 U.S. 822 (2002).

Does anyone remember when a drug testing plan in the Reagan administration was largely scuttled thanks to George Shultz's expressed willingness to take the test -- to be immediately followed by his resignation?

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