I have a confession to make. Even though I beat on the privacy drum constantly I can help by groan whenever I hear somebody saying stronger privacy laws are needed. It’s not because I disagree with their sentiment. Usually people demanding stronger privacy laws have their hearts in the right place. But their efforts are wasted. Privacy laws don’t protect privacy.
Consider medical records. The legal system through numerous laws and court rulings generally considers medical records to be confidential. While that’s all fine and dandy that hasn’t stopped the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) from obtaining medical records:
The Drug Enforcement Administration has been sifting through hundreds of supposedly private medical files, looking for Texas doctors and patients to prosecute without the use of warrants.
Instead, the agents are tricking doctors and nurses into thinking they’re with the Texas Medical Board. When that doesn’t work, they’re sending doctors subpoenas demanding medical records without court approval.
The DEA can’t even count how many times it has resorted to the practice nationwide. A spokesman estimated it was in the thousands.
Even though these medical records are generally treated as confidential the DEA can still obtain them without so much as a court ordered subpoena. That’s because privacy laws do not equal privacy. Privacy is the ability to control who has access to your personal information. It necessarily implies you being the primary controller of your information and deciding who can and cannot access it. If you really want medical records to be private you should advocate that individuals be granted sole possession of their records and be allowed the exclusive right to decide when and by who they can be accessed.