Medicare – CMS — The World Privacy Forum filed extensive pubic comments on the substantive changes to the Medicare database release policy that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has proposed in a System of Records Notice. As it currently stands, CMS is planning to release the individually identifiable protected health information of patients in the Medicare database to third parties in some circumstances. CMS has not established strong enough checks and controls on its release policy, and it has not explained how it is able to do this under HIPAA. The comments state that CMS has an obligation to explain how each routine use in its new policy is consistent with the authority in the HIPAA privacy rule. If a routine use allows disclosures that are broader than those permitted by HIPAA, then the routine use must be narrowed so that it is consistent with HIPAA. The comments also note that nothing in the CMS notice discusses substance abuse rules and other legal restrictions of the protected health data. The World Privacy Forum asked CMS to specify that the qualifications of any data aggregators who may potentially receive the data exclude any entity that sells other consumer data for any general business, credit, identification, or marketing purpose.
Genetic privacy | SACGHS — The World Privacy Forum gave testimony to the Secretary’s Advisory Committee on Genetics Health and Society regarding privacy issues stemming from direct-to-consumer advertising and consumer-initiated genetic testing. The World Privacy Forum noted that a great deal of consumer health data circulates outside the protections of HIPAA, and a substantial market for this kind of consumer health data already exists. Genetic data about consumers that is acquired outside the clinical context and is not subject to the protections of HIPAA (for example, through consumer-initiated genetic testing) will likely not be any more protected than other forms of consumers’ health-related information from the current demands of the market. However, the consequences of leakage of genetic information about consumers into the marketing stream could have potentially negative consequences for both those consumers and their blood relatives. The World Privacy Forum urged the committee to include specific recommendations about privacy in its upcoming report to the Secretary, and also urged the committee to work with other federal agencies to set up a pre-market oversight structure that includes significant and meaningful privacy protections for genetic testing occurring outside of the protections of HIPAA.
Genetic Privacy — The World Privacy Forum filed public comments with the Department of Health and Human services in response to an HHS request for information regarding the use of patients’ genetic data for research, health care, and for use in electronic health records. The World Privacy Forum is requesting that HHS use all Fair Information Principles in any personalized health care projects, and is requesting that a formal ELSI (ethical, legal, and social implications) committee be set up to oversee any projects, among other requests.
Privacy Act of 1974 — The Department of Justice published a notice proposing to update the Routine Uses of its systems and databases under the Privacy Act of 1974. The proposal was not precise enough, and was written in such a way as to allow sensitive Privacy Act systems such as the Criminal Division Witness Security File (CRM-002), the Witness Immunity Records (CRM-022), and the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS, FBI-018) to be disclosed to almost anyone in certain circumstances, including to individuals working outside of law enforcement. The World Privacy Forum is requesting that the DOJ significantly tighten its language in the proposal, and to specify what individuals or entities may have access to these sensitive records, under what specific conditions. The World Privacy Forum is also requesting the DOJ republish all of its up-to-date system of records notices in their entirety immediately and at least every two years thereafter.