December 04, 2014
Medical Privacy In Our Biologically Upgraded Future

Any information that goes into some corporation's or government's computer systems runs a significant risk of getting grabbed by hackers. The latest sensation is the Sony Pictures Entertainment leak, possibly by North Korean hackers. This follows hacks done on computer systems of Target, Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase, and other companies. These hacks have implications for the privacy of your medical records.

Also, any information on a corporate computer is at risk of a court order or other legal move to come into the hands of a government. The same is true of information that one government agency has that another government agency wants.

You might not care about whether assorted national intelligence services or organized crime groups get access to your medical records. You might want to make your medical history completely public. It would not surprise me if web sites spring up to enable individuals to publish their medical histories. After all, people use social networking sites and other sites to reveal all manner of information about themselves. Some people even install cameras in their apartments and let anyone watch them on a web site.

But suppose you want to assure that some portion of your medical history stays secret. Is this going to be possible? Yes, I think so. The way to keep your medical state secret: Make sure only you know it.

What's needed: the ability to test, diagnose, and treat ourselves. Some day we'll have portable personal microfluidic devices that can do blood tests. We'll have other portable testing and diagnostic devices. If you can do all the diagnosis yourself with no data getting onto network-connected computers then you could have medical secrets.

It is not enough to take your own blood samples and send the samples to labs to get results back. The labs will know who is paying them and they'll even be able to cheaply test a blood sample for enough DNA single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) to identify whose blood sample they are dealing with. If everyone gets SNP tests at birth (as seems likely) and the DNA fingerprints stored by governments then your unique DNA pattern made from the lab sample could be matched against a government database.

Who will have a really big need to keep parts of their medical history secret? For starters, anyone who makes banned upgrades to their bodies. Athletes obviously come to mind. But a variety of body and mind alterations will be banned by governments. Not all governments will ban the same alterations. But if someone wants to make an alteration that your own government would allow but other governments would see as a reason to deny a visa then I expect quite a few people will want to get their alterations and upgrades done in absolute secrecy.

The upgraders face a bigger problem than those who want to diagnose themselves in secrecy: Most gene therapy and cell therapy will require skilled people backed by sophisticated labs to do. But those treatment facilities will have computers. If you go to some small and very secretive country to get upgrades you run the risk that hackers or a high pressure bigger government will manage to pry out your records at some later date. Switzerland and other banking havens have partially caved in to bigger government demand for info about tax evaders. We can expect similar developments with treatments banned in many jurisdictions.

A government could also just grab you, strap you down, and send in sensors to find out how far your body has been altered away from original factory specs. So your own body is at risk of getting hacked to pull out your medical secrets.

We are headed into a future where our data stores will grow by orders of magnitude. Keep in mind that anything that goes into a data repository about you might some day come out in a court case or as part of a massive corporate data breach.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2014 December 04 05:58 PM 

Pierre said at December 7, 2014 11:41 AM:

Going to the Doctor these days is an exercise in circumspection, or it should be, because every single problem you have is going into a database that will never forget you. And these problems will be used against you in a variety of ways.

Then if the problem is heritable, all of your children and their children, will carry the burden of your loose lips. Going to the doctor is impossible these days.

PacRim Jim said at December 7, 2014 12:06 PM:

How about a site where American hackers collect the names of recently dead Americans, and use them to name malware designed to attack the countries of foreign hackers.
It would please me no end to know that malware named after me would get some revenge after my death.

Monty said at December 7, 2014 12:08 PM:

Actually the solution to medical privacy is rather straight forward, there are only two requirements. First, you need to pay out of pocket and not use insurance. There is really no way to avoid that, any conceviable insurance system is going to require enough paper trail to avoid fraud that your privacy is just waiting for someone to violate it. Second, use a lab that doesn't test DNA unless you ask them to. While it is true that the lab could secretly test it, or the government could show up and force them to rest the sample in the brief window they retain it, the odds of that can be low. Even if they do test it, they need another test to compare it to, and so if you never submit samples under your real name, they wont be able to identify you. Then, just pay in cash, and a fake name throughout.

SDN said at December 7, 2014 12:46 PM:


Do you plan to drive a car? make ALL purchases with cash? only work underground? I guarantee that part of the basic identification will be an encoded sample of DNA "in case of accident, or ensure your innocence".

Pierre said at December 7, 2014 4:56 PM:

Sometimes I can see the advantages of a super Carrington Event...maybe it would give us enough breathing room to get a handle on what we all thought would be a godsend, these blasted computers.

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