(Ken Silva, Headline USA) A Senate Finance Committee inquiry has found that the country’s biggest pharmacies are handing over customer medical records to law enforcement agencies without requiring warrants.
Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., revealed this in a Tuesday letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra, raising concerns about the situation.
“All of the pharmacies surveyed stated that they do not require a warrant prior to sharing pharmacy records with law enforcement agents, unless there is a state law that dictates otherwise.” Wyden said in the letter, referencing Amazon, Cigna, Optum Rx, Walmart, Walgreens Boots Alliance, CVS Health, The Kroger Company and Rite Aid Corporation.
“Those pharmacies will turn medical records over in response to a mere subpoena, which often do not have to be reviewed or signed by a judge prior to being issued.”
Wyden also said some of the pharmacies—CVS Health, the Kroger Company and Rite Aid—provide the medical info to law enforcement without even conducting an internal review. Those companies allegedly instruct their pharmacy staff a to respond immediately to law enforcement demands.
“All of the big pharmacy chains in the US hand over sensitive medical records to law enforcement without a warrant—and some will do so without even running the requests by a legal professional, according to a congressional investigation.” – ARS TECHNICA
And although pharmacies are legally permitted to tell their customers about government demands for their data, most don’t, he said.
In fact, only one company, Amazon, told Wyden that it has a policy of notifying customers about law enforcement demands for pharmacy records, as long as there is no legal prohibition to doing so. Amazon presumably does this because it already has a notification system set up for when law enforcement collects other customer data.
Wyden and two of his colleagues urged Becerra to update HIPAA regulations to better protect customers.
“Pharmacies can and should insist on a warrant, and invite law enforcement agencies that insist on demanding patient medical records with solely a subpoena to go to court to enforce that demand,” he said.
“The requirement for a warrant is exactly the approach taken by tech companies to protect customer privacy.”
In response to Wyden’s findings, an Amazon spokeswoman told the Washington Post that the company cooperates with law enforcement requests as required and that such requests “represent a very small percentage of the prescriptions we fill for customers.”
A Walgreens spokesman reportedly said the company’s law enforcement process follows HIPAA and other applicable laws, while a Walmart spokeswoman said the company takes its “customers’ privacy seriously as well as our obligation to law enforcement.”
An Amazon spokeswoman told the Post that the company cooperates with law enforcement requests as required and that such requests “represent a very small percentage of the prescriptions we fill for customers.”
Rite Aid declined to comment, and other companies did not respond to the Post’s requests for comment.
Ken Silva is a staff writer at Headline USA. Follow him at twitter.com/jd_cashless.
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