Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Spinal Privacy

There is an interesting article in the Guardian today. I suggest you read it. It refers to the security (or otherwise) of the NHS spine, the computer system which is being built to house the medical records of all UK residents.
And therein lies the problem.

Given the Governments track-record on IT projects, given the fact that you can either have a functional or secure system (but for a project this size probably not both) the question you have to ask is:

"Do I really want my personal and confidential details available to any of the 250,000 staff in the NHS who have currently been given smart cards? Oh, and the police, security services, and anyone else who might have the technical skills to hack in or money to buy information from the spine?"

Speaking as a medical professional, I don't.

The Governments constant mantra of reassurance and complacent murmurings that security will be adequate completely fail to make me feel better about the scheme.

For a start, you won't have a choice about whether to be involved or not unless you opt out right at the beginning. Once your info is on the spine, its there in perpetuity (and lets not even start talking about civil liberties and the Data Protection Act).

Sadly, this scheme is just another manifestation of the current Government's inclinations to control us all. There is no safeguard with this. If it is "in the public interest" your records will be viewable by whomsoever the authorities deem. Right now, if the police want me to show them your records, they need to either provide me with your consent (in writing, and even then I usually check with people to make sure they understand what it is they've consented to) or ask a Judge to issue a Court Order (and although it has never happened, I would probably then wish to speak to the Judge myself anyway to clarify what exactly they want to see: it would be most unusual for someone's appendectomy in 1954 to be of any relevance to anything at all, really).

The Guardian also provide a page (here) with a draft letter to the Secretary of State for Health instructing that you don't want your data added to the spine. I will be writing.

The decision whether you should as well is not one I can make for you. But consider carefully before imagining that New Labour will treat your most intimate personal details with the dignity they deserve.

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