The government has submitted a bill that, in its view, will strengthen the privacy provisions of the My Health Record system by requiring a court order before the health information of a person is made public to the police.
Health minister Greg Hunt has this morning My Health Records Amendment Bill 2018 in the lower house.
The My Health Record system has had a period of three months from the beginning of what was initially for individuals to opt out of having a record, having to deal with an increased control of the privacy provisions. Hunt has since extended the opt-out period until November.
The government "takes the safety of health information seriously," Hunt said this morning.
The bill will "strengthen the legislation that supports the MHR system to strengthen privacy protection", according to the minister.
Hunt said the national eHealth registration system aims to "address a fundamental problem" with the Australian health system, namely that consumer health information is "fragmented because it is spread over a large number of locations and systems".
The minister said there had been concerns about the access of law enforcement authorities to health information and the storage of health information after a My Health Record was canceled.
There is no material released from the system for law enforcement purposes during the six years that the system is in use, the minister said. He also noted that the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA), which manages the system, has policies to not release information without a court order, but this is not mandatory under current legislation.
"I think it's important to be very clear about this: the My Health Record system has its own special privacy controls that in some cases are stronger than the protection provided by the Commonwealth. Privacy law on the advice of me, & # 39; said Hunt.
"Nonetheless, this government has listened to the recent concerns and to provide additional reassurance, rapid progress has been made to address them through this law," the minister said.
Hunt said he was engaged in "productive consultations" with the Australian Medical Association and with the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners.
"The bill will release the ability of the system administrator – that is, the Australian Digital Health Agency – to release health information to law enforcement agencies and other government agencies without a court order or the consumer's express consent," Hunt said.
He said that this is consistent & # 39; is with the existing ADHA policy.
There is an exception under which the ADHA may release certain information if it relates to unlawful activities involving the system itself and disclosure is necessary for research or reporting purposes.
An example given by the government is an ADHA employee who has access to the system to blackmail someone – the ADHA could report the incident to the police, although providing detailed health information would still require a court order
On the basis of the bill introduced by Hunt, the ADHA must also be obliged to "destroy every record that contains health information included in the health care recipient's My Health Record", except for the health care name and identification code of the health care provider. person who has retained the record, the name and the identification code for the healthcare of the person requesting the cancellation (in cases where a parent has made the request) and the day on which the decision to cancel takes effect.
The exception will be if the ADHA is required by a court order not to destroy data or is forced to provide data to law enforcement authorities.
In practice, the government expects permanent removal to take place within 24 to 48 hours under the new regime.
Currently the ADHA is obliged to store the health information of a My Health Record up to 30 years after a person dies (or if the date of death is unknown, then 130 years after their date of birth). (The & # 39; cancellation & # 39; of a record currently means that health information is inaccessible via the system.)
"This makes it clear that the government will not store health information if a person chooses to cancel at any time," Hunt said this morning. "The record will be deleted forever."
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