FTC privacy proposal could serve as model for future HIPAA updates

Consumers must have an up-front option regarding the shared use of their personal information, the Federal Trade Commission argues in a report published this week. While the privacy framework proposed in the report would not impact entities covered under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 due to duplication issues--or overlapping requirements--it could ultimately serve as a blueprint for forthcoming updates to the law, the report's authors note.

The FTC wants Congress to pass legislation that would mandate both a "do not track" mechanism for online information, and that companies and other entities "provide consumers with reasonable access to the data ... proportionate to the sensitivity of the data and the nature of its use."

With regard for the latter, the FTC wants data brokers who specifically use sensitive information for marketing purposes to create a centralized website that would explain to consumers exactly who they are and what they plan to do with the data.

Jeff Chester, executive director of the Center for Digital Democracy, applauded the report. "The harvesting and sale-often in real-time-of our valuable data, including about our financial and health interests, poses a major threat to consumers," Chester said in a statement.

Hospital data mining of private health and financial records has been criticized by some who feel that such practices allow facilities to "pick and choose" patients based on their financial status.

The report was based on more than 450 comments filed in response to a proposed framework published in December 2010, the report's authors say.

To learn more:
- here's the report (.pdf)
- read Chester's statement on the report 
- check out the preliminary proposed framework (.pdf)

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