My Health opt-out deadline extended after controversy

Pearl Mccarthy
November 16, 2018

Update: 14:55pm: Health Minister Greg Hunt tweeted a confirmation of the extension. The original deadline was also extended by one month earlier this year.

The amendment, presented by One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson and supported by Labor, occurred during a morning dominated by debate around a bill to strengthen the scheme's privacy provisions.

"To my knowledge, there is now no public disclosure of the precise security controls and technologies deployed for My Health Record, nor have audits been published or even their summaries", Ralph Holz, an expert in cybersecurity from the University of Sydney, tells The Daily Swig.

The government says they can't see it but a Senate Committee called for this to be made clear in legislation.

Unless new legislation is passed today, Australians will no longer be able to opt out of the government's My Health Record from tomorrow.

It's not just your doctors who can see these health details; almost 700,000 health practitioners including your dietitian, podiatrist or occupational therapist can see these details if they are registered to use the system unless you set up access controls.

Vijay Varadharajan, Microsoft Chair Professor in Innovation in Computing Director, acknowledged that there is a growing trend in information going digital, but there were flaws in My Health.

The government wants to share de-identified information from your My Health Record with third parties such as researchers. "Hopefully with this further delay they can finally get it right", she said.

At the time of writing there are no up-to-date numbers on how many Australians have opted out of the system.

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The system - which is an online summary of an individual's health information, including allergies, medical conditions, treatments, medicines and test reports - raised concerns about the level of security and privacy surrounding the data.

Over 1.4 million people so far have decided they don't want their health information stored in the online database.

Concerns gathered pace about the security and privacy of the system in mid-2018, including the potential for law enforcement bodies to access the data.

Victims of domestic violence would also be better protected, with abusive former partners banned from accessing their child's records.

Among those voicing their concerns was the Australian Rail Tram and Bus Industry Union (RTBU), which said it was anxious that the system would make it easier for employers, as they have in the past, to demand access to health records.

While the legislation now has to pass the lower house, where the government has lots its majority, which doesn't sit again until November 26 - 11 days after the current opt out deadline - Health Minister Greg Hunt announced within hours of the vote that he would agree to the January 31 extension.

"At any point in time, you can remove yourself from the My Health Record program and you can delete your file, and it will be deleted permanently", she told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

The motion called on the government to "extend or suspend the opt-out period until the legislation and any amendments are passed, outstanding privacy and security issues are addressed and public confidence in this important reform is restored". Tech experts from Melbourne University showed in 2016 how easy it was to re-identify Medicare data and they say it is nearly impossible to fully de-identify health data.

According to the Digital Health Agency, responsible for My Health Record, at least 900,000 Australians opted out of the scheme in the first two months of the opt-out period.

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