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War on drugs casualty: private RX info of thousands in FL database gets leaked


To keep dangerous prescription drugs controlled, the government maintains a database to make sure that it monitors who gets what pills from what doctors and how often.

The database has probably helped cut down on doctor shopping (and perhaps overdose deaths), but it also has exposed the privacy of thousands of Floridians.

Here's the ACLU press release:

Tallahassee, Florida – The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Florida today sent public records requests to the Florida Department of Health and the Seminole County Sheriff’s Office to learn how and why approximately 3,300 Floridians’ confidential prescription drug information, stored in a state-wide prescription drug database, ended up in the hands of third parties without the knowledge or consent of the individuals whose prescription drug information was released.

Individuals’ confidential prescription records collected and housed in the Electronic Florida On-Line Registry of Controlled Substances Evaluation (E-FORSCE) database pursuant to state law, were  ultimately distributed to prosecutors and defense attorneys in six criminal cases pending in Volusia County, Florida. By sheer chance, one of those individuals who was not the subject of any criminal investigation learned that their information was among the thousands whose confidential prescription information was in the hands of strangers.

“The private medical information of more than 3,000 Floridians—namely what prescription drugs they take, the dosage, their date of birth, address, and the name of the pharmacy that dispensed the prescription, ended up in the hands of third parties who simply have no legal right to know which law-abiding citizens are taking which prescribed medications,”   stated ACLU of Florida Associate Legal Director Maria Kayanan. “We want to know how this monumental breach of security and confidentiality occurred, and how a State-mandated database could apparently be so misused that it led to the widespread distribution of intimate medical information unconnected to any ongoing investigation.”

The E-FORSCE program was created by the Florida legislature in 2009 to collect and store information about individuals prescribed certain medications such as painkillers, anti-anxiety medication, and sleep aids. According to the program’s website, the program must comply with the privacy requirements of HIPAA “and all other relevant state and federal privacy and security laws and regulations.”

The public records requests sent by the ACLU of Florida to the Florida Department of Health and to the Seminole County Sheriff’s office, seek records relating to requests made by local or federal law enforcement agencies, or inter-agency task forces, to the E-FORSCE database.

“As we’ve seen time and time again, and as made apparent by recent national news, government databases that collect personal information about us inevitably become sites for abuse and mistakes that can compromise our privacy,” continued Kayanan. “The maintenance of this database is bad enough, but without effective safeguards in place to protect our right to privacy under the Florida Constitution and federal law, breaches like this are inevitable. We want to determine how those safeguards in Florida failed, or if indeed they exist at all.”