Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced he is joining Rep. Vandana Slatter, D-Bellevue and Senator Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond, to propose legislation in the 2023 legislative session to increase protections for confidentiality of data following the Dobbs The Supreme Court ruling gives Washingtonians more control over their health data.
Under current law, Washingtonians’ health data is left vulnerable to be used by advertisers or shared with anti-choice groups. For instance:
- Period tracking apps can sell sensitive information about a woman’s late period or miscarriage to data brokers. Data brokers can link this information to its data profile, which is basically for sale on the open market. Law enforcement agencies in states with strong anti-abortion laws or anti-choice advocacy groups can purchase this profile data and use this information to prosecute women who have abortions or miscarriages in another state.
- Pregnant women sometimes contact or visit emergency pregnancy centers seeking reproductive health care services, only to find that they cannot have an abortion at that facility. But while they’re there, the Crisis Pregnancy Center may collect and share the woman’s sensitive data with anti-abortion groups who may then target the woman with pro-life messages and political ads.
- Digital advertising companies can set up geo-fencing around healthcare facilities that triggers when someone brings their cellphone or mobile device through the barrier. The individual may be bombarded with text messages and advertisements urging them not to seek reproductive care or gender affirmation.
This legislation from Dhingra, Slatter and Ferguson:
- Prohibits organizations from selling Washingtonians’ health data.
- Prevents apps and websites, such as health tracking apps, search engines, and advertisers, from collecting and sharing the health data of Washingtonians without their consent.
- Prohibits the use of “geofences” in reproductive health care and gender-affirming facilities. Geofences are a virtual perimeter around a physical location that can be used to send messages to someone entering a specific location.
The bill may be known as the EMPOWHERD Act (Enforcing Measures Protecting Our Washington Health Electronic Rights and Data). Violations of the Act constitute a violation of the Consumer Protection Act.
“This law will give Washingtonians more control over how their health data is used,” Ferguson said. “This is a key part of protecting Washingtonians’ access to safe, private reproductive care — which is more urgent than ever.”
“I believe this bill is an important opportunity to protect our health data – especially in an unprecedented time when our constitutional rights to reproductive health and bodily autonomy are under attack across the country,” said said Rep. Slatter. “As a clinical pharmacist, I had the honor of testifying about the importance of Plan B and comprehensive reproductive care. As a legislator, I am honored to sponsor this bill in the House to protect health data and privacy in Washington State.
“It is inadmissible that people’s personal data regarding access to reproductive health care is used for criminal prosecutions,” said Senator Dhingra. “With the ideological attacks on reproductive and gender-affirming care nationwide, it is critical that Washington State establishes best practices and a national model to protect the right to privacy we all deserve. and which we all need. I look forward to working with Attorney General Ferguson, Governor Inslee, the tech industry, advocates and my colleagues to continue to develop policies that protect access to care, provide a safe haven for people asking of care in our state and ensure that health-related data is safe from government interference and intimidation.
“I want to thank Senator Dhingra, Representative Slatter and Attorney General Ferguson for leading efforts to strengthen patient and provider data protections,” Governor Jay Inslee said. “It is inexcusable that the private and protected data of patients and healthcare providers is shared for purposes other than necessary care. We are not going to allow it in Washington.
Washington residents expect their health data to be protected by laws such as the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). However, HIPAA only covers health data collected by specific healthcare entities, including most healthcare providers. Health data collected by other entities – including apps and websites – does not enjoy the same protections.
This bill closes the gap in health data privacy protection.
Source: Washington State Attorney General’s Office