The idea behind My Health Record is sound, it’s the execution that worries me.
The idea behind My Health Record is sound, it’s the execution that worries me.

Trust them with my medical info? Not a chance

CONSIDER for a minute your most sensitive personal information.

This is not internet banking passwords or credit card account details. These can be changed, locked and replaced.

What can never be altered though are our medical records, which can detail every surgical procedure, medication, mental health disorder, sexually transmitted disease, substance abuse problem, chronic condition, abortion or other private information such as sexual alignment that doctors may have gathered over the years.

This, in the wrong hands, is the stuff of potential identity fraud, blackmail, or possible discrimination on behalf of insurance companies, employers, banks or landlords. The potential for misuse is extraordinary.

Yet right now the Turnbull government is asking all Australians to "trust us" with the new My Health Record database. At face value the rationale behind such a system - which would give medical staff and patients timely access to their records (without the need for them to be dug out of a filing cabinet somewhere) - makes sense.

Speaking of filing cabinets though, the same government that is asking us to trust it with our most sensitive personal information is also the one that dumped two filing cabinets full of classified Cabinet documents (some marked "top secret") in a Canberra second hand furniture store. Oops.

My Health Record will become a digital repository for your medical information, unless you opt out. (Pic: Supplied)
My Health Record will become a digital repository for your medical information, unless you opt out. (Pic: Supplied)

This is also the same government that presided over the 2016 Census omnishambles.

Remember that one? For the first time ever filling in the Census form online became the default option, but the whole exercise turned to custard on the night as the sheer volume - combined with some denial of service attacks - sent the whole system into meltdown.

This was also the Census where the government made an unprecedented grab for personal information in the form of retaining names and addresses for up to four years so they could be linked to other government data.

This, according to the former head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics Former Bureau head Bill McLennan, represented "the most significant invasion of privacy ever perpetrated on Australians by the ABS".

This is the same government that presided over a data breach in 2017 that saw patient details being offered for sale on the dark web.

It is also the same government that orchestrated the persecution of tens of thousands of Centrelink clients in the #NotMyDebt debacle where computer generated debt notices - often backed up by threats of collection agencies and legal action - were issued.

The problem was thousands of the notices were demonstrably incorrect, but onus of proof had been shifted on to clients.

When one client, blogger Andie Fox had the temerity to pen an opinion piece detailing how she had been "terrorised" by Centrelink, the Department of Human Services decided it would be a swell idea to pass on her personal details to a journalist writing a piece favourable to the government.

Malcolm Turnbull’s government does not have a great record when it comes to protecting data. (Pic: Toby Zerna)
Malcolm Turnbull’s government does not have a great record when it comes to protecting data. (Pic: Toby Zerna)

Against this background why on earth would any Australian trust the Turnbull government to protect and respect their data?

They have demonstrated themselves to be not only manifestly incompetent, but also mean-spirited and vindictive enough to weaponise citizens' personal data and use it against perceived critics.

Why would you trust any assurances from this government about third party access, particularly when their mates in the private health insurance industry are right now lobbying their guts out in an attempt to get their hands on the data?

Why would you believe the "don't you worry about that" promises about their ability to render anonymous any data shared for statistical purposes, when just last year researchers from the University of Melbourne demonstrated they were able to "re-identify" people using supposedly anonymous records?

Do you really want police and other agencies being able to use "reasonable grounds" to examine your medical records?

Just imagine, if this is abused, the scope for health insurers to jack up premiums or refuse insurance based on your private information, or perhaps employers to terminate you because of sexual orientation or a condition such as HIV.

And what of future governments and the laws they may enact granting access to our most private medical information, and allowing that information to be in effect used against us?

There are no guarantees that can be given on that front, and especially not by a mob that has demonstrated itself to be both singularly inept with data management and privacy, but also downright malicious when it comes to using whatever it has at its disposal to pursue opponents.

We have until October 15 to "opt out" of the My Health record system - a choice which is far from best practice to begin with.

In the age of data mining, cyber attacks and Cambridge Analytica I do not want my personal medical records floating around in the electronic ether ready to be harvested by the highest bidder, or inadvertently dumped by some knucklehead in Canberra.

I'm opting out.

Paul Syvret is a Courier-Mail assistant editor.



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