As the amount of healthcare data skyrockets, so do the risks to data privacy and security. Despite the rising number of cyberattacks on hospitals and the leakage of patient information, discussions about the protection of health data are still progressing slowly.
The COVID-19 pandemic has drastically changed the way healthcare is provided. The majority of hospitals have started delivering medical services online, and patients are having their appointments with doctors via computers. As a result, health data is becoming more and more digitised. As the amount of healthcare data skyrockets, so do the risks to data privacy and security. Despite the rising number of cyberattacks on hospitals and the leakage of patient information, discussions about the protection of health data are still progressing slowly.
Individuals have a right to know and to control the way their data is being used. The same applies to health data, especially since it is considered to be sensitive data. This point was underlined by Anita Gurumurthy, a founding member and executive director of IT for Change, at the IGF 2021. It is critical for people to know where their health data is located, how it is protected and who can access it. Considering the rise in identity theft, having control over one’s data can reduce the number of cases in which data is somehow misused by the third party or stolen by cybercriminals. What’s more, young people believe that it is technically possible to determine where our data is stored. This therefore raises questions about the political will to actually provide citizens with this information.
What is crucial to determine is who should be responsible for citizens’ health information. Private companies that keep our medical data may not have the necessary level of liability, worries Professor Barbara Prainsack from Vienna University, a speaker at the IGF 2021 session on digital health. The extent of data possession by governments and private companies has to be clearly outlined so that data is properly managed and is not used without consent from citizens.
For this a regulatory balance of liability for private and public sector is needed, said Levy Syanseke, a Youth IGF Partner from Zambia, during a live commentary session from IGF 2021 organised by the Youth IGF.
Youth IGF @IGF2021 Live commentary on digital health blueprints for a post-pandemic world. Day 4. Hosted by Yuliya Morenets. With Prof Gilberto Martins de Almeida, Bernardo Sequeiros, Levy Syanseke.
Youth IGF at IGF 2021 Live commentary on digital health blueprints for a post-pandemic world. Day 4. Hosted by Yuliya Morenets. With Prof Gilberto Martins de Almeida, Bernardo Sequeiros, Levy Syanseke.
Today there is a pressing need to strengthen the security of health data flows. The consequences of a cyberattack where health data is compromised may be terrible and will negatively affect an individual’s social life, their job opportunities, etc. What we can try to do is to find a way to anonymise health data so the person it belongs to cannot be identified.
“If we anonymise data, and there are technologies that allow us to at least partially do that, it will provide defence in terms of data privacy,” said Bernardo Sequeiros, a Youth IGF Partner from Portugal.
The role of the public sector in ensuring the anonymisation of data is to be taken into account.
Governments should push for stronger anonymisation and impose stringent security frameworks for health data flows, according to Professor Gilberto Martins de Almeida from the Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro.
The pandemic has forced the adoption of digital technologies and transformed healthcare. Locked up at home, people turned to telemedicine. Although this kind of medical treatment is far from gaining the same amount of trust enjoyed by traditional medicine, it is hard to deny that telemedicine presents many benefits, especially for developing countries. However, this is not possible if people simply do not have access to the internet, said Youth IGF founder Yuliya Morenets during a podcast briefing from Day 4 of the IGF 2021 in Katowice. And this is still the case in rural areas in the developing world.
“The call to do something about connectivity and broadband is a permanent call for action,” said Morenets.