By William Patrick | Florida Watchdog
TALLAHASSEE — Sometimes it takes a large net to catch a few wrong-doers. And that’s one of the concerns when it comes to large government databases that are searched to find smelly fish.
But that’s exactly what happened when 3,300 Floridians recently had their private prescription-drug information turn up in the hands of Volusia County criminal attorneys.
Instead of providing answers as to how the breach occurred, the Florida Department of Health is offering a workshop on July 8, for the public to express their privacy concerns.
In a statement, DOH praised the prescription-drug monitoring program that requires health care providers to report sensitive recipient information each time certain prescriptions are filled — anything from pain killers to cough syrup with codeine. DOH also says it is enhancing its privacy safeguards.
But that’s not going to cut it, according to the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.
“Thousands of Floridians have had personal information — including their names, their addresses, the medications they take, their dosages, the names of their physicians, and the names of the pharmacies that dispensed the medication — distributed to people who never should have had them,” Maria Kayanan, associate legal director of the ACLU of Florida, said in a news release.
“This is yet another experience showing that when government is collecting personal information about the activities of law-abiding individuals, that information is rarely as ‘secure’ as it is claimed to be,” she said.
Six of the 3,300 individuals whose records were release are subject of criminal investigations. None of the 3,300 people were notified their records were released, nor did they give their consent.
The civil libertarian group submitted a public-records request to DOH earlier this month to find out how, and why, the department released the records. DOH denied the request, saying it conflicted with active investigations.
The ACLU said it simply is wanting to know how confidential records were obtained regarding those not suspected of crimes.
In a brief phone interview, the ACLU of Florida confirmed to Florida Watchdog that they have not received a substantive response to their latest records request, but they are reaching out to the feds for help
In a letter dated June 22, the ACLU petitioned the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to investigate the alleged privacy violations and levy sanctions against those involved.
According to state law, it is a felony to knowingly distribute to unauthorized individuals confidential information from the Electronic Online Reporting of Controlled Substances Evaluation, or E-FORCSE, database.
The leak came to light when a criminal defense attorney involved in one of the prescription drug abuse cases recognized the name of an associate, attorney Michael Lambert, on a discovery disc issued by the Office of the State Attorney for the Seventh Judicial Circuit.
The defense attorney then notified Lambert that his private medical and prescription drug information had been released to third parties.
A statement from the Department of Health last week said it is “collaborating with law enforcement agencies and the Attorney General’s office to strengthen existing policies established to protect health information.”
Contact William Patrick at [email protected]