13 Apr 2018

Austrian government wants to release citizens' health data for research

The Enabling Act is already in Parliament and should come into force in 2019, despite strongly worded criticism from data protection advocates.

Christine Tragler
Christine Tragler Der Standard, Austria
Source: Der Standard
Austrian government wants
to release citizens' health data for research - NewsMavens

Why this story matters:

The Austrian government wants to release the personal data of its citizens for research purposes, including information from the electronic health record "Elga". The law has already been submitted to the parliament.

Universities and the health industry welcome the plans, but privacy advocates warn against abuse, especially in light of the recent Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The liberal party Neos, Austria's Medical Association and the data protection association Epicenter Works have all noted the same flaw in the system: the anonymous identification number that will be assigned to citizens is far from fail-proof.

"This can lead to health data leaking into the market," says Epicenter Works lawyer Angelika Adensamer.

In short, there is a broad consensus that the law could lead to the type of questionable data handling that seems to have become characteristic of our era.

health, politics

Details from the story:

  • Under the new Research Organization Act, information about citizens that is stored in public databases will be released for research purposes. Specifically, this means that universities, technical colleges and museums will have access to the data, as well as research departments of companies and individuals, provided that they receive a license from the Ministry of Innovation.
  • Large data sets can be used to search for statistical correlations and thus draw conclusions about further developments. For example, data taken from Elga's health record could be used to find out which drug proved to be the most effective in the event of a widespread illness.
  • Although citizens would be anonymous  in principle, privacy advocates warn that the measures taken are not enough.
  • Above all, the potential transfer of Elga data came under fierce criticism.
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