Hospitals Allowed To Use Web Trackers On Americans?

Photo by Sergey Zolkin on Unsplash

( – On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Mark Pittman ruled that the Biden administration’s guidance preventing hospitals and medical providers from using online trackers to monitor users of their website is unlawful.

Pittman, a federal judge in Fort Worth, Texas, ruled in favor of two hospital trade groups and two Texas healthcare systems when he found that the Department of Health and Human Services (HSS) had overstepped its authority by adopting the guidance policy to promote privacy.

In 2022, the HHS issued a guidance warning healthcare providers that granting access to third-party tech companies to collect and analyze data from website or app visitors might be a HIPPA violation.

The 1996 Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act bans publicly disclosing private health information, protecting individuals from stigma, discrimination, and any negative consequences. Medical providers and hospitals in violation of the law face penalties.

In a bulletin, the HHS Office of Civil Rights issued guidance addressing the use of trackers by hospitals’ public-facing websites, suggesting trackers could reveal people’s diagnoses and medical visit frequencies, resulting in those accessing the site being at risk of unintended negative consequences.

However, Pittman ruled that the HHS had gone too far when interpreting the HIPAA-protected “individually identifiable health information,” by suggesting it covered the metadata of users searching a public website.

In his motion, Pittman wrote that siding with the HHS “would empower” the department and other “executive entities to take increasingly expansive liberties” when wielding the “finite authority” given to them, adding that the court wouldn’t be setting such a precedent.

Pittman vacated the guidance.

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