Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Doctor, Doctor (Give Me the News)

Here is a very interesting collision at the intersection of HIPAA privacy and the Patriot Act:

Robin Moore, practice administrator for the group, said the language in their pamphlet is not unusual, and it complies with HIPAA and the Patriot Act. Sentara Healthcare's policy says the system might release medical information to authorized federal officials for national security activities. By contrast, Bon Secours Hampton Roads Health System, which operates Mary Immaculate Hospital in Denbigh, doesn't mention national security or federal authorities at all in its privacy pamphlets, but it does say information may be released when required by law.

So far, the government has never requested anyone's medical files.

The Department of Justice long has maintained the law is so narrow that a person's medical records would almost never be requested to combat terrorism. John Nowacki, spokesman for the department, said the law only allows the government to search for information pertaining to foreign intelligence that does not concern an American citizen.

"The law specifically provides that it can't be used against a United States person," Nowacki said. It also means that the law cannot be used to investigate "ordinary crimes or domestic terrorism," Nowacki said.

You know, I hadn't even thought of HIPAA in terms of domestic spying, but recent current events are making me think that there may be some conflict between the government's perceived need for information and the provisions set in place to insure privacy. Every spying program in history has been abused. The reassurance by Mr. Nowacki, above that "it can't be used against a United States person" flys in the face of recent disclosures.
I am all for HIPAA, in spite of the nuisances and irritations, the inconsistances and vague interpretations, because I believe in the fundamental right of all of us to keep private those things we ourselves choose to consider private. That some bureaucrat can bypass HIPAA at a whim, without anything more than an administrative warrant (if that, and then signed, not by a judge, but by that bureaucrat's boss) and it is illegal for me to be informed, even when nothing of national security interest is found, makes me very nervous.
There is nothing very interesting in my medical records. No employer is going to hesitate hiring me because of my health--- no insurance company is going to deny me coverage, no enemy or business rival is going to be able to leak my shameful past. But there are many of us whose records are not deadly dull, as mine are.

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