The privacy of more than 60 children and teens was violated when sensitive psychological information was posted on the University of Montana web site in late October. The records primarily came from clinics in Minnesota and Montana, and included names, dates of birth, addresses, and descriptions of patient visits and doctors' diagnoses.
According to latimes.com (11-7-01), the files were posted for eight days, accessible to internet search engines, and were removed only after an article appeared in a local newspaper. University officials said the records were likely posted accidentally and that they were investigating.
While the incident is reportedly unique in the quantity of detailed information that was posted on a public web site, other instances of private psychological and medical information leaking out on the web have occurred. "That's the danger with all of these electronic records," UCLA professor and former president of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), Daniel Borenstein, told latimes.com. A wrong push of a button "can mean immediate distribution of a massive amount of private medical information."
Particularly egregious in the Montana incident was the fact that the psychological records made public were those of children. Details of an 11-year-old boy's therapy sessions were posted, for example, as were the re-cords of an eight-year-old girl suffering from autism and retardation.
The unauthorized posting of private documents on the internet carries a penalty only if the victims can prove in court that damages were incurred, such as denial of a job. New federal regulations to safeguard the privacy of medical records will not take effect until 2003.
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