Memo on Sorrell v. IMS Health, Inc: Supreme Court Case Requires Nuanced Understanding of Privacy

A case pending before the U.S. Supreme Court has the potential to do real damage to privacy protections, but understanding the various risks posed by the case requires some careful unpacking of the ways in which “privacy” is – and is not – at issue. In this paper, we focus on two aspects of the case: First, we explain why it is very important to recognize the valid distinctions between personally identifiable data and “de-identified” data. We explain that privacy could actually be harmed if the Court were to accept the claims, made in some briefs in the case, that there is no difference between identified and de-identified data. Second, we examine the claim that doctors have a “privacy” right in their drug prescribing practices. We explain that, while the patient-doctor relationship is based on confidentiality and the trust it generates, it is not useful – and would undermine other health care goals – to speak of doctors as having a “privacy” right in their drug prescribing practices.


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