There have been many critiques of the Federal government’s rollout of the My Health Record, based on many different grounds. There are the threats of hackers abusing the lax security of government databases, there are concerns over abusive spouses accessing details by logging into their spouses’ accounts, there are questions over the access private companies will have to sensitive records, and there are worries regarding access creep – more and more people getting access to this information.
The government has been on the back foot since the opt out period has started and has scrambled to assuage the fears of the public. No health minister would want a large program like this to fall flat and give the opposition a free kick going into the next federal election, which could be held as early as August 4th. All of these criticisms are valid and any one of them provides good grounds to opt out of this program.
But the key concern of any large government data collection and warehousing program goes well beyond whether private companies can get access or whether hackers will be able to raid the databases. Above and beyond all of those concerns is this: governments are not our friends and any information they have can be used against us.
This has already been highlighted by Scarlet Alliance, a sex worker rights organisation, that has pointed out in a brief for sex workers that once drug use or HIV status is disclosed on their medical records, it can never truly be expunged and not only that, police can access the data without a warrant.
This should pose immediate problems for anyone who has a love for individual freedom: there are many choices people make that don’t have the authorization of the government. People may choose to use recreational drugs or unauthorized medicines, and with My Health Records, your GP will become a snitch on behalf of the government. We have seen a number of high profile examples of parents using cannabis to treat their children but under My Health Records, any blood test will incriminate patients who defy the government’s dictates on recreational drug use. Once you have a record under the new system, you cannot opt out so if you don’t opt out now and later on wish to use something the Federal government doesn’t approve of as medication, tough luck.
The danger of the state having access to this information isn’t limited to how we use our bodies. Libertarians often like to emphasise to political partisans that the reins of power change hands, and that they must be careful how power is exercised lest their opponents eventually get hold of it.
But My Health Records exposes an even greater problem: governments can abuse our rights and even turn tyrannical. Despite their incompetency and foolishness, Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten aren’t overly dangerous – they might fail to balance the budget but both are too banal and bland to pose an existential threat to democracy. However, My Health Records doesn’t disappear the day they leave office – unless repealed, it remains forever, and we cannot rule out future governments using the power afforded to them to either gather more data beyond the current scope, or use that data to oppress political opponents.
The more likely problem is that governments expand the scope of what should be recorded in these files. The medical profession has a lot of points of contact with our lives and consumers put a lot of trust into doctors and nurses. It isn’t a huge leap to think that the government might one day start requiring the disclosure of greater and greater amounts of information, especially if done under the guise of improving the quality of research material. Under the ‘Bootleggers and Baptists’ theory, it isn’t hard to imagine that central planners and do-gooders might call for increasing levels of information in order to better research and plan the economy, while at the same time this data would be useful to researchers as well as police and spying agencies.
More troubling is how governments have used data to persecute their enemies. It has been confirmed that the US Census Bureau gave up names and information to the US Secret Service that was used to round up people during World War II , and it isn’t hard to see how useful these databases would be if similar governments rose to power in future. It is easy for us, here and now, to say that could never happen but we cannot guarantee that. One only needs to look to the rise of far-right authoritarianism in Europe to see what our future might hold, and if that occurs, do we really want to be handing the totality of our lives to them on a platter? We should always assess the danger of government agencies and powers on the basis of what happens if the worst kinds of people get hold of it, and on those grounds, My Health Records represents a real danger.
This is something that shouldn’t be reformed: it is something that needs to be destroyed. Don’t allow yourself be drawn into the trap. Opt out now.