OP-EDS

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March 7, 2006

Florida, soon to be hacker-central

Florida has never made good decisions.

It gained notoreity in 2000 with the butterfly ballots, pregnant chads, and general inability to reach conclusions during the presidential election. But that wasn’t an isolated episode of incompetence; the state has generally been fairly befuddled and bizarre, always doddering a few golf balls short of a pail.

Apparently, if Dave Barry is to be believed, Floridian drivers are such maniacs that driving in Florida with vision obscured by 36 helium-filled balloons in your compact SUV “actually gives you an advantage” in traffic.

Hey, what can we expect from the land where old people go to visit their parents?

Now Florida has a new stupid plan. It is going to put medical records online. Rob Cronin, spokesman for the SureScripts software company, stated that the company expected the system “to be statewide in Florida” by “the end of the year,” according to a News-Press article. The same article promised that in 2013 “all medical records are supposed to be accessible through the internet,” though it’s always prudent to assess a government’s seven-year plan with some skepticism.

Think about how tantalizing an online database would be to hackers. The medical records of 16 million Floridians uploaded to the world wide web. Hepatitis diagnoses, anti-HIV therapy, pregnancies, abortions, excessive vicodin prescriptions for “delocalized lower back pain,” that night in the E.R. for acute ethanol poisoning…all online, available to any sufficiently scrappy hacker anywhere in the world. How much would your insurance company, bank, political opponent, or ex-fiancée pay to see your personal information? How much would you pay to keep that information private? Multiply that by 16 million Floridians—or by 300 million Americans—and you’re looking at the financial incentive for circumventing the “security” Florida officials have established.

Abuse of personal medical information for financial gain or personal motives is nothing new. That’s why we have the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPPA). Consider the following horrifying examples, which I have quoted verbatim from HIPPA: “A banker who also sat on a county health board gained access to patients’ records and identified several people with cancer and called in their mortgages…A physician was diagnosed with AIDS at the hospital in which he practiced medicine. His surgical privileges were suspended…A candidate for Congress nearly saw her campaign derailed when newspapers published the fact that she had sought psychiatric treatment after a suicide attempt…A 30-year FBI veteran was put on administrative leave when, without his permission, his pharmacy released information about his treatment for depression.”

Do you trust the state of Florida to keep your personal medical records safe online? Remember, folks, this is the state that couldn’t figure out which president it voted for.

According to News-Press, Pati Trites, CEO of Compliance Resources (a company that monitors HIPPA compliance), said that “there have already been some breaches in the pharmacy system” and suggested that we “worry about the hackers of the world.” Trites said that, according to a recent survey, “only 55 percent of health care providers and 72 percent of insurance companies were in compliance with the federal privacy protection laws.”

When the records go online, “You could have job loss, insurance denials, increasing rates, and publicity,” Trites said. “If you have a teacher with AIDS or Hepatitis C, that’s protected information. You can come up with all types of scenarios. We have to find a secure way of transmitting and housing that information.”

Medical records will never be “secure.” However, they will be far easier to access, duplicate, and abuse if they are posted online than if they are stored in a dark warehouse in the middle of nowhere.

Florida seems determined to adopt this frightening system. I doubt they can be dissuaded. I just hope that, as with the butterfly-ballot debacle, the rest of the country will watch Florida screw up and avoid making the same mistake.