Police and government agencies will not be able to access a person’s My Health Record data without a court order under law changes proposed by the federal government.
Medical records will be stored on a national database under the controversial federal government scheme, to be viewed by patients, GPs, specialists, pharmacists and hospital staff, with every Australian set to be added to the scheme automatically unless they choose to “opt out” by October 15.
While individual security controls can be put on the data, the ability of authorities to override the privacy settings and access the data without a court order had concerned advocates of people living with HIV, sex workers, and recreational drug users.
Health Minister Greg Hunt announced on Tuesday the legislation underpinning the My Health Record system would be amended to “ensure no record can be released to police or government agencies, for any purpose, without a court order.”
He said no documents have been released in more than six years of operation of the My Health Record system, and the change to the legislation would “remove any ambiguity on this matter”.
“In addition, the government will also amend Labor’s 2012 legislation to ensure if someone wishes to cancel their record they will be able to do so permanently, with their record deleted from the system,” he said.
“The Government will also work with medical leaders on additional communications to the public about the benefits and purpose of the My Health Record, so they can make an informed choice.”
The My Health Record Act 2012 legislation currently only requires law enforcement agencies to have a “reasonable belief” that a person’s data could be “reasonably necessary to prevent, detect, investigate or prosecute a criminal offence” for them to access the data.
Shadow health minister Catherine King said an extension for the opt-out period was needed to give the public all the information about the record system to make an informed choice about whether to opt out.
“The legislation underpinning the My Health Record was designed for an opt-in system,” she said.
“The government made the decision to shift to opt-out but was too incompetent to realise it needed to strengthen privacy and security provisions as a result.”
Hunt told the ABC he was open to extending the opt-out period but would discuss it with the states and territories first.
The proposed changes come after talks with the Australian Medical Association and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, who called for Hunt to clear up ambiguity around disclosure of the medical records to authorities.
Former AMA president Dr Kerryn Phelps previously suggested that GPs may have boycotted and refused to upload their patients’ data to the system if the privacy concerns weren’t addressed.
The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations and the National Association of People With HIV Australia (NAPWHA) have produced fact sheets about the My Health Record system and called on people to consider the benefits and risks before the end of the opt-out period.
To find out more about the My Health Record or to opt out, visit the website or call 1800 723 471.