Thursday Oct 04, 2007

Privacy priorities and Identity

So I had to call my wife's health insurance to get some information on her behalf. The polite lady at the call center answered and asked me some identifying questions first: birth date, last four digits of social security, address etc. Satisfied with the answers she relinquished the information I requested. I guess they answer so many calls per day, it did not occur to her that a male voice was requesting information on someone with a female name. Or it means that anyone who presents the answers to the questions is entitled to the information. I wonder what HIPAA dictates?

A few days later, my wife went to the public library and I asked her to bring home a book that I had reserved. The library refused to allow her to check out a book reserved under my account, using her card. She produced her driver's license showing the same surname and address as the library's computer had for me. No success. However, if she produced my library card, which holds no picture of me, they would have happily checked out the book.

Why is that personal medical information can be released over the phone to anyone who answers four or five identifying questions about an individual, yet a book cannot be checked out unless one produces a library card that bears no visual identification of the bearer on it whatsoever?
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Jonathan Gershater

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