Unlawful copying of the medical records of 1.6 million NHS patients?

“A core part of Google” has been told it has no lawful basis to process 5 years’ of patient data from the Royal Free Hospital in London. [1] With no legal basis, the data must be deleted.

In May 2016, the New Scientist reported that Google DeepMind had access to a huge haul of patient data, seemingly without appropriate approvals. In July 2016, the MHRA confirmed that DeepMind had not received any approvals for a trial involving patients, using patient data. In November 2016, DeepMind signed a replacement contract covering exactly the same data.

The National Data Guardian has provided a view on this matter (all emphasis added): [1]

The Royal Free “…confirmed to us [NDG] that 1.6 million identifiable patient records were transferred to Google DeepMind and that implied consent for direct care was the legal basis for the data processing.

“…Streams was going through testing and therefore could not be relied upon for patient care, any role the application might have played in supporting the provision of direct care would have been limited and secondary to the purpose of the data transfer. My considered opinion therefore remains that it would not have been within the reasonable expectation of patients that their records would have been shared for this purpose.”

It is unclear whether Google DeepMind has complied with the finding that it had no legal basis for processing this data; nor is it clear what it was that first attracted DeepMind executives to unlawfully copy 1.6 million people’s medical records, repeatedly insisting on direct care as the sole legal basis.

medConfidential agrees with the Information Commissioner, when she said in a speech to technology companies: “I do not believe data protection law is standing in the way of your success.” She reminded her audience: “It’s not privacy or innovation – it’s privacy and innovation.” In this case, this DeepMind project turned out to be neither of those things.

The National Data Guardian’s investigation has made clear that DeepMind had no legal basis for their actions in this project. For further information or for immediate or future interview, please contact Phil Booth, coordinator of medConfidential at coordinator@medconfidential.org

  1. The NDG has provided a view on this matter to assist the ICO’s investigation” was the National Data Guardian’s comment on the publication of the University of Cambridge paper, ‘Google DeepMind and healthcare in an age of algorithms’: https://link.springer.com/
    article/10.1007%2Fs12553-017-0179-1
    and http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/
    deepmind-royal-free-deal-is-cautionary-tale-for-healthcare-in-the-algorithmic-age

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