Piecing Together Privacy: Identifying You and Your Medical Records

It is not paranoia to say that there are groups “out there” trying to know everything they can about you all of the time.  It is more terrifying to realize that so much of your most personal data is collected and aggregated into databases ripe for the picking. We are often lured into a false sense of security with the knowledge that there exist laws and privacy policies ostensibly designed to keep our information secret.  However, these protections are deceptively weak, especially in the face of new methods of data reconstruction.

For example, HIPAA is a piece of federal legislation designed to protect the privacy of patient’s medical records.  It demands certain methods be taken when collecting and handling data, but also that such data is “anonymized” before being released. Under certain circumstance, the law allows anonymized data to be sold for research purposes, essentially to anyone seeking to buy.  Unfortunately, recent research is revealing that supposedly anonymized data can be combined with other public records to fill in the blanks, thereby linking you to your sensitive information.  Jordon Robertson’s recent article for Bloomberg News highlights the frightening implications of this process.  In light of last week’s NSA snooping scandal, it is shocking to consider how exposed Americans really are.