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Google and DeepMind face legal claim for unauthorised use of NHS medical records

Fitness & Health:

Google is facing a class-action lawsuit for the unlawful use of confidential medical records belonging to 1.6 million NHS patients, without their knowledge or consent.

Andrew Prismall, represented by law firm Mishcon de Reya, is bringing the claim against Google in a new representative action in the High Court of Justice of England and Wales.

WHY IT MATTERS

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The claim for the misuse of private information relates to an arrangement formed in 2015 between Google’s subsidiary DeepMind and the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust. 

DeepMind received the patient data from the Royal Free for the clinical safety testing of a smartphone app called ‘Streams’, which was developed to detect acute kidney injuries. The app was subsequently used by the Royal Free on a discount basis.

The UK’s data privacy organisation, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) subsequently ruled the Royal Free had not complied with the requirements of Data Protection Act when it provided the patient data.

THE LARGER CONTEXT 

The lawsuit comes at a time of rising concern over the potential misuse of health data by tech giants.

In 2020 the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) ordered Google to conduct “a full assessment of the data protection requirements and privacy implications” of its acquisition of wearables giant Fitbit. The deal was eventually signed off with a series of requirements to be followed for 10 years.

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DeepMind had previously at the heart of a class action lawsuit against Google and the University of Chicago Medical Centre, which held accusations of patient privacy violations following a data agreement between the two.

Meanwhile, tech-justice firm Foxglove issued a lawsuit last year on behalf of news site openDemocracy over the £23 million NHS COVID Datastore deal with Palantir. The lawsuit claimed NHS England failed to consider the impact of the deal on patients and the public by performing a fresh Data Protection Impact Assessment.  

After facing a judicial review claim the government conceded the lawsuit and agreed not to not to extend Palantir’s contract beyond the pandemic without a consultation.

In a previous legal challenge in June 2020, openDemocracy and Foxglove forced the UK government to publish contracts with big tech firms, arguing the public had the right to know about the transfer of health data assets.

ON THE RECORD

Prismall said: “I hope that this case can achieve a fair outcome and closure for the many patients whose confidential records were – without the patients’ knowledge – obtained and used by these large tech companies.”

Ben Lasserson, partner at Mishcon de Reya, said: “This claim is particularly important as it should provide some much-needed clarity as to the proper parameters in which technology companies can be allowed to access and make use of private health information.”

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Healthcare IT News contacted Google and DeepMind for comment but had not received a response at the time of publication.

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