ACLU Strongly Urges Congress to Give Medical Records Same Privacy Protections As Those Given Video Rentals

April 27, 1999 12:00 am

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Tuesday, April 27, 1999

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today strongly urged Congress to give medical records the same kind of legal protections as those awarded video rentals and cable subscriptions.

Testifying on medical records privacy before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, the ACLU said that advances in technology have brought about a revolution in every aspect of health care.

Particularly dramatic are the ways vast amounts of private medical information are stored electronically and transmitted around the country and globe with the click of a mouse.

“Much of this electronic activity benefits individual patients and facilitates public health efforts as well,” said Ronald Weich, an ACLU Legislative Consultant. “But, like many technological advances, society’s increased reliance on computerized medical records presents significant challenges to privacy.”

In his testimony, Weich praised the Senate’s efforts to address medical records privacy and reiterated the ACLU’s endorsement of medical records privacy legislation introduced this year by Senators Patrick Leahy, D-VT, and Edward Kennedy, D-MA.

A former Assistant District Attorney in New York City, Weich spoke particularly about law enforcement access to medical records. In his testimony, he said that only the Leahy-Kennedy bill would require that law enforcement officers obtain a court order before gaining access to medical records.

As a former prosecutor, Weich told the committee that law enforcement could function quite effectively under the Leahy-Kennedy approach.

“Respect for the Fourth Amendment and the privacy values it embodies do not hamper police and prosecutors,” Weich said. “In my experience, exercising police power while respecting privacy actually increases citizen trust in law enforcement and encourages law abiding behavior.”

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