GPs and social service providers demand My Health Record protections | Australia news
Malcolm Turnbull has signalled the government will make “refinements” to the My Health Record scheme, but a growing backlash has lead to calls for changes including requiring law enforcement agencies to get a warrant to access the records and dramatically narrowing the grounds to release information.
The president-elect of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, Harry Nespolon, said that the health minister, Greg Hunt, had conceded the need to “work towards changing the legislation” to protect privacy and possibly to shorten the 30-year period for which records are kept.
At issue is section 70 of the My Health Records Act 2012, which authorises the Australian Digital Health Agency to disclose health information when it “reasonably believes” it is necessary to investigate or prosecute a crime, to counter “seriously improper conduct” or to “protect the public revenue”.
On Monday the parliamentary library warned this section could allow law enforcement agencies, as well as Centrelink, Medicare or the Australian Tax Office to access records, adding that agencies would not need a warrant to do so.
Nespolon said the My Health Record “should be used for your health and shouldn’t be for anything else”.
Asked about the ability to release information to protect public revenue, Nespolon said “that’s not what healthcare is about” because people attend doctors to manage their health “not to protect the public purse or so police can do their jobs more easily”.
“You’ve got to ask whether you need section 70 full stop,” he said. “One of the principles of collecting information is you only use it for the purpose it’s been collected.”
Nespolon said Hunt was being asked “to fix up something that Labor put into action in 2012”, when the legislation was first passed.
He said it was “fair criticism” that doctors’ groups could have raised concerns earlier but explained the Coalition’s decision to shift to an opt-out rather than an opt-in system had only just “focused people’s minds” on the defects.
The Australian Medical Association has also vowed to do “whatever it takes” to ensure My Health Record was subject to the same level of safeguards as current medical records.
Cassandra Goldie, the chief executive of the Australian Council of Social Services, said Centrelink should have no ability whatsoever to access the records.
“We strongly oppose Centrelink being able to independently access My Health Record under any circumstances,” Goldie told Guardian Australia.
Acoss said it was broadly supportive of the aims and intent of the My Health Record system, but holds serious concerns about the privacy shortcomings in the legislation.
“The promise of My Health Record is a system that will enable people to control their own health information and facilitate better coordinated care,” Goldie said in a statement.
“However, it has become clear that the My Health Records Act currently allows the system operator, the Australian Digital Health Agency, to use or disclose information for a range of reasons completely unrelated to a person’s health. This is clearly unacceptable and of major concern.”
“This access to a person’s sensitive health information should only be as the community expects, with the individual’s consent or though a proper court order or subpoena.”
The ADHA told Guardian Australia it would not allow any access to the data unless “it is required to by law”, and the health minister, Greg Hunt, has flatly denied any suggestion that Centrelink would be able to obtain My Health Records.
Hunt and the ADHA have repeatedly said that “no documents will be released without a court order”.
The Department of Human Services has confirmed it has not once asked for access to a digital health record since the scheme began in 2012, but it has used similar grounds to gain authorised access to telecommunications data in the past.
Labor has called on the government to suspend the rollout while it reviews the legislation, but the Greens and Centre Alliance have gone further in promising to push for changes.
The Greens will introduce a private members’ bill to insert a requirement for law enforcement agencies to get a warrant to access records.
The Greens leader, Richard Di Natale, told Guardian Australia “if you want to access someone’s medical records, you should have to have a warrant, simple as that”.
“We support the principle of digital health, but this will succeed or fail based on implementation. And that’s why it’s doubly important to get it right.”
Digital rights activists say Centrelink access remains a possibility under the current legislation. Digital Rights Watch chair, Tim Singleton Norton, said access by Centrelink was “one of the major concerns” with the legislation.
“It’s got all these little loopholes and abilities to access the data,” he told Guardian Australia . “There’s also nothing stopping them from introducing future legislation to access that data.”