September 23, 2013

HARRISBURG (September 23)- Mere hours after introduction, the Pennsylvania House Human Services Committee passed legislation today to collect data on millions of prescription drug users in the commonwealth. The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania called House Bill 1694 “woefully inadequate” in protecting Pennsylvanians’ sensitive medical data.

“While there are legitimate public health concerns about prescription drug abuse, this bill goes too far in sacrificing the privacy rights of millions of Pennsylvanians,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “The privacy of the child who breaks his arm on his bike or who takes attention deficit medication is being sacrificed because someone across town is abusing these substances.”

The ACLU of Pennsylvania cited multiple privacy and consumer protections concerns with the legislation, which was introduced by Representative Matt Baker of Tioga County. Like a previous bill introduced by Representative Gene DiGirolamo, the Baker bill does not require law enforcement to receive approval from a court before obtaining information from the database. The legislation also allows the data to be stored for six years or even permanently, under certain conditions.

“In these days of mass data collection by the NSA, it’s hard to believe that any government official would propose more monitoring of our daily lives,” said Andy Hoover, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “But that’s exactly what this bill is. Without a significant tightening of privacy protections, House members should reject this bill, for the good of their constituents.”

Hoover cited a survey released this month by the Ponemon Institute that found that medical identity fraud increased by 20 percent over the last year and that Americans will spend $12 billion in expenses as a result. According to an NBC News report, experts reacted to the survey results by predicting that medical identity fraud will only increase with the increased use of electronic medical records.

In 2009, a hacker compromised a similar prescription surveillance program in Virginia, exposing the personally identifying information of eight million Virginians.

HB 1694 now heads to the floor of the House for further consideration.