Health Privacy Bill Advances In Washington State

Lawmakers in Washington state have advanced a broad privacy bill that would limit the collection and transfer of any information related to consumers' health.

The My Health My Data Act, backed by Attorney General Bob Ferguson, was passed in the House in March, while a slightly revised version was passed last week by the Senate.

The proposed law, which could help protect the privacy of people seeking abortions, comes less than one year after the Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade.

If ultimately approved by lawmakers and signed by the governor, the bill would prohibit app developers, website operators and others from collecting or sharing a broad range of health data without consumers' opt-in consent.

While the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act protects people's medical privacy to some extent, that only regulates hospitals, doctors and other specific health care professionals.

The Washington bill's relatively expansive definition of health care includes health conditions, prescription medication, genetic data and biometric data such as fingerprints, vein patterns, faceprints, voice recordings, keystroke patterns and gait patterns.

Another provision of the most recent version of the bill would outlaw geo-fencing within 2,000 feet health-care facilities.

That provision specifically prohibits anyone from using GPS hear health care centers in order to identify people seeking health care, collect health data from consumers, or send notifications or ads relating to health.

The measure would also allow individuals to bring lawsuits over violations.

Earlier this year, the major ad groups urged state legislators to revise the measure, arguing it would have “far-reaching, unintended, and unfavorable consequences.”

Among other objections, the organizations opposed the provision allowing consumers to sue over violations.

“Allowing private actions would flood Washington’s courts with frivolous lawsuits driven by opportunistic trial lawyers searching for technical violations, rather than focusing on actual consumer harm,” the Association of National Advertisers, American Association of Advertising Agencies, Interactive Advertising Bureau, American Advertising Federation and Digital Advertising Alliance said in a letter sent to state lawmakers last month.

“Beyond the staggering cost to businesses, the resulting snarl of litigation could create a chaotic and inconsistent enforcement framework with conflicting requirements based on differing court outcomes,” the groups added.

Ferguson's office said last week that a poll commissioned by the Northwest Progressive Institute found that 76% of state residents wanted stronger privacy protections for health data.

If enacted, the measure would take effect March 31, 2024.

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