De-identified information is excluded from the HIPAA Privacy Rule’s definition of protected health information, permitting its use without patient authorization. However, information de-identified according to HIPAA provisions can be re-identified putting patient privacy at risk.
So argues Latanya Sweeney, professor of government and technology in residence and director of the Data Privacy Lab at Harvard University. Sweeney was famously able to show how the medical record of William Weld—then-governor of Massachusetts—could be re-identified using only his date of birth, gender and postal code. In addition, she also showed in a separate study that 87 percent of all Americans are uniquely identified based on only date of birth, sex, and ZIP code.
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