We need a ‘privacy bill of rights’, says psychiatrist

Bioethics needs to promote privacy, not only of patients’ data but also in society, according to an early on-line article in the Journal of Medical Ethics. “A post-privacy world, where personal life is lived publicly and sensitive information is easily accessible, exacts a psychological toll, but no systematic assessment of the psychological effects of this state has been published in the mental health literature,” writes Dr Elias Aboujaoude, a psychiatrist at Stanford University.

He points out that the volume of personal information which has become available through the internet could be “destabilising” for some people. Hence, the medical profession ought to lobby for greater privacy protections as a serious mental health issue:

The psychological distress that can result from the loss of digital privacy justifies such advocacy as a new moral duty in today’s world. Indeed, a Hippocratic oath for the 21st century might approach privacy as a basic right that is important to mental health and, therefore, worthy of the medical profession’s support.

He suggests that a “privacy bill of rights” is needed to protect people from technology, both now and in the future.

The medical profession has historically championed privacy when it comes to health information, but clinically relevant privacy breaches now go well beyond violations of the medical record. Appreciating that and supporting a serious multipronged response to the problem are the new ethical imperative. Hippocrates alone cannot protect mental health from ‘revenge porn’.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge   

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