IRS faces class action lawsuit over theft of 60 million medical records
The Internal Revenue Services is now facing a class action lawsuit over allegations that it improperly accessed and stole the health records of some 10 million Americans, including medical records of all California state judges.
According to a report by Courthousenews.com, an unnamed HIPAA-covered entity in California is suing the IRS, alleging that some 60 million medical records from 10 million patients were stolen by 15 IRS agents. The personal health information seized on March 11, 2011, included psychological counseling, gynecological counseling, sexual/drug treatment and other medical treatment data.
"This is an action involving the corruption and abuse of power by several Internal Revenue Service agents," the complaint reads. "No search warrant authorized the seizure of these records; no subpoena authorized the seizure of these records; none of the 10,000,000 Americans were under any kind of known criminal or civil investigation and their medical records had no relevance whatsoever to the IRS search. IT personnel at the scene, a HIPPA facility warning on the building and the IT portion of the searched premises, and the company executives each warned the IRS agents of these privileged records," it continued. According to the case, the IRS agents had a search warrant for financial data pertaining to a former employee of the John Doe company, however, "it did not authorize any seizure of any healthcare or medical record of any persons, least of all third parties completely unrelated to the matter," the complaint read.
The class action lawsuit against the IRS seeks $25,000 in compensatory damages "per violation per individual" in addition to punitive damages for constitutional violations. Thus, compensatory damages could start at a minimum of $250 billion.
According to the linked Courthousenews.com piece, the class is represented by attorney Robert E. Barnes of Malibu, California. The Complaint is reported to state that the IRS' data theft was so enormous it affects "roughly one out of every twenty-five adult American citizens."
If a government agency decides to steal medical records, I'd rather the records be on paper than electronic. I think it's inarguable that it is a lot harder for 15 people to haul 60,000,000 paper charts away than a few hard disks.
Mass theft of records must be factored into the risk/benefit ratio of electronic health records. See other posts on this topic at the label index terms below.
Addendum: the Complaint is here (PDF).