The government says it will amend the My Health Record legislation to require a court order before law enforcement and other government agencies to access eHealth records.
The move, announced by health minister Greg Hunt, follows a widespread backlash against the national eHealth record system following the decision to move to an ‘opt-out’ approach to My Health Record enrolment.
The Australian Digital Health Agency, which operates the My Health Record system, has previously said that as a matter of policy it will not release eHealth records without a warrant — however, the legislation imposes no such requirement.
A requirement for a court order will be “enshrined in legislation,” a statement issued by Hunt said.
“This change to the My Health Record Act will therefore remove any ambiguity on this matter.”
“This is excellent news, and vindication for the privacy experts, medical practitioners, concerned public and even members of the Minister's own government, who have all outlined their privacy concerns with this rollout,” said Digital Rights Watch chair Tim Singleton Norton.
“This government has a long way to earning the trust of Australian citizens when it comes to handling personal information, but this is a good first step for the minister to take,” the privacy advocate added.
The government said it will also allow individuals to permanently cancel their record. Currently, the system will only render a record inaccessible after an individual decides to opt-out after a record is created; all the data is still retained within the My Health Record system.
“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,” Hunt’s statement said.
Hunt said the move followed discussions with the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP).
Acting Australian Information Commissioner and acting Privacy Commissioner Angelene Falk said she welcomed the government’s announcement.
“These proposed changes build on the existing privacy and security safeguards in the My Health Records Act, including sanctions enforceable by the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner,” Falk said.
“I also welcome the additional communications to the public to assist individuals make an informed decision as to whether or not to have a My Health Record.”