Liberty Victoria Comment on the Health Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2023 (Vic)

The Health Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2023 (Vic) (the Bill) should not be enacted in its current form.

The Bill, which would create a centralised database for the medical records of every patient in the public health system, does not sufficiently protect Victorians’ right to privacy. Vitally, Victorians will not have the ability to ‘opt out’ of the scheme.

This means that sensitive personal health information will be warehoused without patient consent.

Liberty Victoria raised similar concerns over virtually identical legislation that was tabled in Parliament in 2021, which can be read here.

Health information is intensely sensitive, and Liberty Victoria considers that patient autonomy and the right to privacy must be at the heart of the health system. The proposal in the Bill will make highly personal information available to many thousands of health workers without sufficient safeguards.

Liberty Victoria has four main concerns about the Bill.

First, Victorians will not have the ability to opt out of the scheme and will not be able to control who sees their health information. There are many reasons that a person may not want to disclose certain sensitive information to different medical practitioners. The creation of the proposed database would also compound the risk of discrimination or poor treatment based on incorrect or disputed information.

Liberty Victoria’s view is that the Bill proposes to significantly erode Victorians’ right to privacy in a way that has not been shown to be justified, reasonable or proportionate.

Second, many people fear experiencing discrimination or stigma from the disclosure of their health information. Knowing that health information would become widely accessible to thousands of health workers may discourage Victorians from seeking necessary medical treatment.

Third, the Bill contains insufficient safeguards for access to health information. People’s sensitive information will become available to many thousands of health workers. This creates a large risk of misuse of health information. It only takes one person to leak personal information for that to have potentially devastating consequences.

Fourth, Liberty Victoria holds serious concerns that the database may be a vulnerable ‘honeypot’ for personal data. All patient data including the identifiers at each clinic and hospital are to be stored. The database could be a major target for exploitation by hackers and organised crime and there is insufficient focus on protecting this personal information. We know from recent experience with mass data breaches that it is impossible to guarantee the security of stored personal information.

In its current form, the Bill unjustifiably erodes privacy rights. It is no answer that other States might take the same or a similar approach, in Victoria we should aim for best practice and due protection of the right to privacy.

Michael Stanton

President, Liberty Victoria

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