My Turn: Privacy madness in America

For the Monitor
Published: 12/19/2019 6:15:19 AM

At some point in every person’s life, moments arrive that can only be expressed as unpleasant, odious and repugnant: getting out of bed in the morning is one of them.

It began as an ordinary day. I twice ignored the snooze alarm before finally dangling my feet off the edge of the bed. I searched for my eyeglasses, collected my thoughts and headed to the bathroom for my morning constitutional.

I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror – bloodshot eyes, sunken cheeks, renegade nose hairs and a morning stubble. It is enough to discourage the most ardent admirer of Adam Smith from bothering to get out of bed. I contemplated if I should curb my enthusiasm about venturing out to challenge a cruel world on such a lovely day. I threw caution to the wind and off I went in a vainglorious attempt at pretending that people care about what I think.

The question on my mind today is medical privacy rights. I should have picked an easier subject, like senior euthanasia.

Some responsible security professionals claim that there are criminals who are dedicated to stealing your health privacy records. That may be a stretch but the possibility that it does happen is real and should be taken seriously. Apparently, cyber thieves in Russia and Eastern European countries are the ones most active in international electronic medical records (EMR) theft.

Cyber thieves are not interested in your personal health issues. They are after your Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and credit card information. They really have no interest whether you recently had a vasectomy.

I harbor no grudges toward customer service personnel at business or in government offices. They all have honest jobs to perform. But occasionally I run across one of these happy warriors who is having a bad day. Let me share a recent experience.

I visited a local health provider to request an appointment. I innocently walked up to the counter. An unpleasant clerk looked up and loudly and publicly rebuked me: “Stand back! Can’t you see I am working on a patient’s private records?” I could feel my cheeks flushing bright red. I could see other clients staring at me as if I was a child molester. I cannot repeat what I wanted to say to her.

My only error was that I failed to read all of the caution signs that were festooned to the side of her counter that notified me that she was a person of substance and admiration in her professional community.

I was not impressed, and I was not there to sneak a peek at other people’s private records.

I cannot read material written upside down or in less than 18-point type, nor was I interested that Jane Doe is about to have facial cosmetic surgery. I was there to arrange an appointment to donate a urine sample.

My opinion concerning my privacy rights is clear: They neither supersede nor restrict the privacy rights of others. I expect my personal private information to be protected to the same degree that others are afforded and with rights guaranteed in our Constitution. No more, no less.

The 1996 HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability Accountability Act) and its companion, the 2009 HITECH Act (Health Information Technology for Economic and Clinical Health), are Machiavellian government documents disguised as reforms in the delivery and transmission of medical privacy records. Their creation may have been a noble government experiment, but, like so many other government experiments, their application has become noxious and fails to correct the deficiencies that the acts were intended to correct.

Incidentally, both acts inflict costs that amount to $25.9 billion to implement and enforce in the health care industry, according to Kalorama Knowledge Center. The true costs may never be known and may be buried under layers of purported necessary bureaucracy, i.e., pencil pushers. That $25.9 billion would be better spent on delivering actual health care to benefit the general health of all Americans. If there are inequities in the delivery of privacy policies in health services, then there must be more respectful, less expensive and polite ways to correct and implement reforms other than resorting to using snide, disrespectful, insensitive and authoritarian remarks from pencil-pushing clerks. HIPAA is an example of a good idea gone terribly wrong. It is transcendental clerical tyranny.

Privacy madness

The privacy police virus has infected just about every public and private business in America. How many times have you been asked by a stranger at a business or government office for your date of birth, the last four digits of your Social Security number, your Medicare number, your phone number and email address? If you do not offer them the personal information they want, they may deny you services.

This intrusion into the privacy and security rights of innocent people may be acceptable in societies such as China, North Korea and Uzbekistan, but it is unacceptable in a pluralistic republic such as the United States of America. It is sad that we are slowly turning into just another banana republic. We have only ourselves to blame.

It amazes me how many people are willing to surrender privacy rights just to board a commercial aircraft. Those busy folks at the TSA airport security gate take glee at harassing travelers over a tube of cosmetics in their luggage. The prospect of going to Disney World’s Stars Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is so powerful that some people would gladly surrender all of their constitutional rights in exchange for an airline ticket to Orlando, Fla.

Security intrusion into our daily lives is only going to get worse. Facial recognition is the next security technology that is being fast-tracked to abridge our privacy rights.

Facial recognition will soon expand into airports, banks, hospitals, courts, police departments, schools, ATMs, museums, amusement parks and stadiums. We will soon all be marked as potential criminals. So much for “Live free or die.”

To add to my list of government annoyances, I just read that video doorbells may present privacy concerns. I am not making this stuff up. They may be an infringement on a person’s right to privacy.

I have watched dozens of doorbell videos showing thieves trying to steal packages from people’s front porches and doorways. Video doorbells can be a valuable deterrent. This is privacy justice run amok. If video doorbells are outlawed, I may be forced to employ a Pomeranian junkyard dog to accompany me along with my trusty Red Rider air rifle (an old Christmas present) in protecting my personal and property rights.

Privacy rights will always be a contentious issue that is not easily resolved. I find myself uncomfortably dealing with both sides of that debate. It is a case of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

The current three-ring circus in Washington, D.C., is a classic example of privacy rights overreach. Those infamous words “I’d love to release my tax returns but they are under audit and I can’t release them” came back to haunt the author. The courts and Congress are having a field day with that issue.

I have the greatest respect for members of the medical community. My objections are about a small number of medical clerical types who do not deliver medical advice or treatment. Like many professions, most medical clerical staff are responsible, industrious and perform valuable services with dignity and competence. A few do not.

Some may call it adolescent but I cherish the rush I will get the next time I get the opportunity to tell a snobbish, pencil-pushing clerk what they can do with that pencil when they play the “stand back” card with me. Merry Christmas.

(Jim Baer lives in Concord.)

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