Indiana Makes a Bipartisan Push for New Privacy Protections

February 16, 2023 | Luke Wachob

The Hoosier State is one step closer to implementing landmark protections for personal privacy.

In late January, the Indiana House and Senate passed legislation (H.B. 1212 and S.B. 303, respectively) to shield Americans’ identities and personal information when joining or supporting nonprofit organizations. The bill is a strong response to the rising tide of doxing, hacking, and harassment of donors to social causes.

“Some people like to give anonymously. This gives them that protection,” explained Indiana Sen. Liz Brown, who sponsored the Senate bill.

The legislation prohibits state officials from making invasive demands or disclosures about Americans’ support for nonprofit groups. It enjoyed strong bipartisan support in both chambers, passing the Senate unanimously by a vote of 50-0, and passing 77-21 in the House. If signed into law by Governor Eric Holcomb, Indiana would become the 15th state to adopt this critical protection for privacy and free speech.

One reason the law, known as the Personal Privacy Protection Act (PPPA), is sweeping the nation is a 2021 Supreme Court ruling that reaffirmed the First Amendment right to personal privacy in nonprofit giving. That case, Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Bonta, concerned a California demand that nonprofits turn over their donor lists to state officials before fundraising in the state. Litigation in the lower courts revealed that California had carelessly exposed this highly sensitive information on public websites, putting donors at risk of retaliation for their beliefs.

In a 6-3 decision, the Court ruled that California’s demand was unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The majority opinion cited a long line of cases illustrating the intimate relationship between privacy and freedom of association. One such famous decision, 1958’s NAACP v. Alabama, speaks especially clearly: “It is hardly a novel perception that compelled disclosure of affiliation with groups engaged in advocacy may constitute as effective a restraint on freedom of association as [other] forms of governmental action.”

Despite these victories at the High Court, Americans’ privacy remains vulnerable in a majority of states that fail to police misuse of donor information. Not every group can afford the time and expense of going to court any time some government official comes up with a new pretext to demand their donor list. The PPPA addresses the root of the problem by clearly limiting the government’s power to collect and release nonprofit donor and membership information in the first place. People United for Privacy won’t rest until these protections are codified for Americans in all 50 states.

Indiana’s bill will give Hoosiers control over how their personal information is used and shared. It provides real assurance that your donations and memberships in nonprofit organizations will stay private if you want them to. That’s good for democracy and free speech as well as charities of all types and missions. It’s also a crucial weapon in the fight against cancel culture.

Claudia Cummings, President and CEO of the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance, noted in The Indianapolis Star that Hoosiers have many reasons to care about their privacy when supporting charitable causes.

“Many simply value their privacy. Others feel it is consistent with their religious beliefs. And some fear harassment or retaliation. In a 2021 Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance survey, nearly 70% of Americans said privacy concerns are important to them when making charitable donations,” Cummings wrote.

The broad support for personal privacy throughout the nonprofit community impressed the Supreme Court as well.

“The gravity of the privacy concerns in [the disclosure] context is further underscored by the filings of hundreds of organizations as amici curiae in support of the petitioners. Far from representing uniquely sensitive causes, these organizations span the ideological spectrum, and indeed the full range of human endeavors: from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Proposition 8 Legal Defense Fund; from the Council on American-Islamic Relations to the Zionist Organization of America; from Feeding America—Eastern Wisconsin to PBS Reno,” wrote Chief Justice John Roberts for the majority in AFPF v. Bonta.

People United for Privacy applauds the efforts of the Indiana General Assembly, especially Senator Liz Brown and Speaker Pro Tempore Mike Karickhoff, and lawmakers from both parties across the country to support the PPPA and enhance personal privacy in their states.