Public Policy

Public Comments: September 2008 – World Privacy Forum urges more attention to the protection of research study participants

Human Subjects Research Protection (OHRP) — The World Privacy Forum filed comments with the Office of Human Research Protection urging the office to do more to protect the privacy of people who are subjects of research. The comments urge the OHRP to focus more attention on providing privacy-specific training for boards overseeing research, which are often weak in knowledge about the breadth of privacy issues in research. The WPF also voiced its strong support for certificates of confidentiality for research involving human subjects, stating that “nearly all research that involves identifiable health data or other personal data about individuals should have a certificate of confidentiality unless a researcher can state a substantive reason why a certificate is not appropriate for the study.”

Public Comments: August 2008 – Border Crossing Information, System of Records Notice, DHS-2007-0040

The World Privacy Forum filed comments regarding DHS’s proposed Border Crossing Information system of records, finding that many of the Routine Uses proposed for the system were impermissible and illegal under the Privacy Act of 1974. The comments focus on the Routine Uses, rather than the system itself.

Public Comments: May 2008 – Proposed changes to FERPA don’t protect student and parent privacy

FERPA comments: WPF is concerned about the U.S. Department of Education’s proposed changes to its FERPA regulations, FERPA standing for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. FERPA is a significant regulation that controls how students’ school records and “directory” information may be shared. The proposed regulations have one item the WPF is supporting, which is that SSNs are not considered part of the directory information. However, other aspects of the proposed regulation still need work to adequately protect students’ and parents’ privacy interests. The WPF commented in particular that schools should not be allowed to request and then store a full tax refund from parents in order to prove students’ eligibility. The Forum also requested that students’ electronic identifiers are not included in the definition of directory information. One area of substantial concern is that the Department of Education has not expressly provided that students who opt-out of having their directory information shared should not be penalized for opting out. Currently, the proposed regulations may be read to suggest that schools may be able to deny benefits, services, or even required activities to students who have exercised the right to opt-out of the publication of directory information..

Public Comments: World Privacy Forum files comments on CMS plan to allow release of patients’ protected health information from Medicare database in some circumstances; benefits do not outweigh the risks

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.

Pam Dixon’s keynote speech on medical identity theft at the AHIMA National Convention

Medical identity theft is a crime that harms people and it is a crime that hides itself. This combination makes medical identity theft an insidious crime. It can cause extraordinary damages and harms to its individual and institutional victims. And once begun, the harmful effects of this crime can linger in the lives of its victims for years or even decades.