11.29.2013

canadian woman refused entry to u.s. based on confidential health records

According to this news story, a Canadian woman named Ellen Richardson was refused entry into the United States because of a prior medical condition. That is, when the US border guards swiped her passport, information taken from her health records came up.

Now, the US can refuse entry to any non-citizen for any reason or no reason. The more important question is why was a Canadian's confidential medical information in the Department of Homeland Security database?? How did it get there? How many of our health records are in the DHS database? You don't need to wear a tinfoil hat to ask these questions, and imagine the troubling scenarios they raise.

When Richardson and the Toronto Star asked for an explanation, they were told:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection media spokeswoman Jenny Burke said that due to privacy laws, "the department is prohibited from discussing specific cases."
How's that for irony? Richardson contacted her Member of Parliament.
MP Mike Sullivan said what has happened to his constituent is “enormously troubling. . . . How did U.S. agents get her personal medical information?"

He said he will be getting in touch with federal privacy commissioner Jennifer Stoddart “and demanding to know how this happened. We’re very concerned if Canadians’ personal medical information is being communicated to U.S. authorities."

Richardson has also spoken to her lawyer, David McGhee, about what she believes to be a “breach of privacy" as well as an act of discrimination against people with mental health issues.

McGhee has sent a letter to Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews asking how this breach could have occurred.

“The incident in 2012 was hospitalization for depression. Police were not involved,’’ McGhee said. “I’ve asked Deb Matthews to tell me if she’s aware of any provincial or federal authority to allow U.S. authorities to have access to our medical records. Medical records are supposed to be strictly confidential."

U.S. authorities “do not have access to medical or other health records for Ontarians travelling to the U.S.," said health ministry spokeswoman Joanne Woodward Fraser, adding the ministry could not provide any additional information.
This is not the first time a story like this has surfaced. But each time it does, it is presented without context or explanation... and then we all move on. These questions are ripe for some investigative journalism, from someone who can afford to do such things. The Toronto Star, for example, might be interested.

3 comments:

laura k said...

Walkom: Cooperation with US has gone too far.

impudent strumpet said...

In addition to everything mentioned here, I'm very curious how personal medical information could get there on a logistical level. Health is provincial. Border crossings are federal. So the Canadian federal government would have to somehow acquire this information that's under provincial jurisdiction, which means they'd have to negotiate acquisition of the information with all the provinces and territories. That seems like a really complicated thing to happen.

There's also the question of how much information do they have. Do they have simply the fact of the treatment, or do they have the patient's whole file? It's not abnormal for a patient to talk to their mental health provider about things like their parents' failings or their partner's sexual proclivities. Is that very personal information in US government computers too?

laura k said...

Both very good questions. We need more information. And to get that, we need this issue to stay active.