ACLU Urges FTC to Investigate Medi-Messenger Privacy Breach

July 5, 2001 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – The American Civil Liberties Union has sent a letter to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) asking it to investigate a major drug manufacturer that gave out confidential information concerning over 700 patients through the Internet.

“This disclosure of personal data may subject hundreds of people to discrimination,” said Barry Steinhardt, Associate Director of the ACLU. “We hope that Federal regulators will do what is necessary to protect these individuals from further harm, and prevent similar mishaps from occurring in the future.”

Through June 27, 2001, Eli Lilly and Company provided a daily email service, known as Medi-Messenger, that reminded Prozac users to take their anti-depressant medication. These messages were sent without identifying the recipients. However, when Eli Lilly discontinued the service it sent an email to its customers that included a long, publicly visible list of over 700 recipients under the previously blank “To:” header.

In its letter, the ACLU charges that Eli Lilly’s distribution of the email violated the company’s posted privacy policy and constituted an unfair trade practice in violation of Federal laws. The ACLU is calling on the FTC to launch a full investigation into this case.

“This incident further underlines the clear and present need for greater privacy protections,” said Steinhardt. “As we have said before, the American people have waited too long for protection of their most sensitive information.”

The ACLU’s letter to the FTC can be found at: /node/22508

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