EFF Asks Justices to Focus on Privacy in Prescription History Data Mining Battle

Washington, D.C. - The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) asked the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday to focus on the privacy issues at stake in a battle over the sale and data mining of medical records, urging justices to reverse a ruling that could jeopardize patient privacy.

At issue is Vermont's Prescription Confidentially Law, which bans pharmacies from selling or using patients' prescription records for marketing purposes without the doctor's express consent. Companies that collect and sell these records challenged the law in court, arguing that they use "de-identified" information and that the law infringed their corporate free speech rights. The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the companies. In an amicus brief filed Tuesday, EFF argued that the appeals court wrongly ignored patient privacy in its decision.

"There are serious questions about the efficacy of such 'de-identification.' We're concerned that the data-mining will expose patients' prescription histories, which leads to discovery of their underlying medical conditions," said EFF Senior Staff Attorney Lee Tien. "Requiring consent before using this extremely sensitive data is a reasonable protection, and claiming this information is 'public' and not really private goes against common sense. The First Amendment does not require the sacrifice of our privacy to promote data exchanges that benefit only commercial interests."

For the full amicus brief:


Lee Tien
Senior Staff Attorney
Electronic Frontier Foundation

Related Issues: Privacy

Related Cases: Sorrell v. IMS Health