Perspective: What the Apple-FBI battle means for health data

The FBI's demands that Apple unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernadino shooters to gain access to information that could prevent future attacks — and Apple's refusal to play ball — has ignited a worldwide debate about information and device privacy. As healthcare pushes to link to EHRs and other various health information repositories to our smartphones and other devices, what does the Apple-FBI standoff mean for our health data?

"The debates so far have failed to highlight that granting governments access to mobile phone data opens access to not only sensitive financial and personal information, but also the crown jewels of healthcare: patient health records," Zen Chu, a senior lecturer at the Boston-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Maulik D. Majmudar, MD, a cardiologist and associate director of the Healthcare Transformation Lab at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, wrote in a commentary for Fortune. "Now that the majority of patients and doctors are accessing, storing and transmitting healthcare information via mobile phones and connected medical devices, smartphone security has become a lynchpin of patient data security."

In 2015, more than 100 million health records were hacked and stolen. There's a moral and legal responsibility to protect that data, according to the authors, as electronic records contain an array of sensitive data critical to both patient finances and health outcomes. While cracking a smartphone in the name of preventing future terror attacks sounds reasonable, there are major considerations to be made regarding the health data contained on mobile devices today, the authors suggest.

Whatever the outcome of the Apple-FBI standoff, it could have major implications for the future of the security of health data.

"Apple, Google and other critical technology vendors should reject demands from governments to compromise security," Mr. Chu and Dr. Majmudar wrote. "It really could be a matter of life and death impacting far beyond a terrorist's cell phone."

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