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Electronic health records, data sharing, big data, data mining, and secondary use are enabling exciting opportunities for improving health and healthcare while also exacerbating privacy concerns. Two court cases about selling prescription data, the Sorrell case in the U.S. and the Source case in the U.K., raise questions of what constitutes “privacy” and “public interest”; they present an opportunity for ethical analysis of data privacy, commodifying data for sale and ownership, combining public and private data, data for research, and transparency and consent. These interwoven issues involve discussion of big data benefits and harms and touch on common dualities of the individual versus the aggregate or the public interest, research (or, more broadly, innovation) versus privacy, individual versus institutional power, identification versus identity and authentication, and virtual versus real individuals and contextualized information. Transparency, flexibility, and accountability are needed for assessing appropriate, judicious, and ethical data uses and users, as some are more compatible with societal norms and values than others.
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I am grateful for the thoughtful contributions to the panel I organized on the Sorrell case for the 2011 American Medical Informatics Association Annual Symposium and for comments on a very early draft of some portions of this article by Paul DeMuro, JD, CPA, MBA, MBI, PhD, Broad and Cassel, Fort Lauderdale, FL; Kenneth W Goodman, PhD, FACMI, University of Miami, Miami, FL; and Carolyn Petersen, MS, MBI, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, MN. I also am grateful to privacy lawyer Joel S. Winston for sharing drafts of his reporting with me, and to the editor for helpful suggestions.
This section features original work on the ethical, legal, policy, and social aspects of the use of computing and information technology in health, biomedical research, and the health professions. For submissions, contact Kenneth Goodman at email@example.com.
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