The Impact of Health Information Technology on Human Rights

The Impact of Health Information Technology on Human Rights

Shane O’Hanlon (University of Limerick, Ireland)
DOI: 10.4018/jicthd.2012040104
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Information technology has the potential to transform healthcare and eradicate many of the inequities seen in the area by improving availability and management of health information. However the use of electronic means to process sensitive health data poses significant risks. Electronic health records have been designed to be more secure than traditional paper records, but there have been notable cases where data has been lost, stolen, or viewed by unauthorised persons. Misuse of information technology can result in severe violations of human rights. In particular the right to privacy can be eroded by inadequate protections which persist in some health systems. This article describes recent developments in the area, analyses legal provisions for protection of health data, outlines examples of rights violations, and proposes future directions.
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Research exploring the relationship between human rights and information and communication technologies (ICTs) has developed significantly in the last decade. Following early optimism about the role of digital media in promoting freedom (Brophy & Halpin, 1999), careful study has attended to the role of ICTs in monitoring human rights (Lannon, 2009); the role of ICTs in instrumentally promoting human rights by generally strengthening individuals’ capacities (Hamel, 2010); and the role of ICTs in specific relation to the freedoms of expression and access to information (Dutton, Dopatka, Hills, Law, & Nash, 2010).

Within this context, increasing attention has also been paid to the role of ICTs in contentious politics, and how access to information and digital media influences power struggles over human rights and processes of democratization. Driven largely by the challenges innovative advocacy and communication practices pose to traditional theoretical models, the resulting body of research enjoys contributions from a variety of disciplines, and is as eclectic as it is dynamic. The application of multiple and divergent analytical methods to novel empirical phenomenon has resulted in a variety of new concepts and subfields, each with their own insights and assumptions. As objects of study, “digital activism”, “new new social movements”, “dot-causes”, “liberation technologies” and “cyber movements” (to name a few) represent significantly distinct analytical approaches and traditions (Breindl, 2010; Clark & Nuno, 2006; Scott & Street, 2001; Custard, 2008; Van Laer & Van Aelst, 2009; Boyle & Schmierbach, 2009; Diamond, 2010; Fleming, 2002; Joyce, 2010), yet often attempt to account for the same empirical phenomena, with each exploring phenomena as dramatically different as Chinese web journalism and citizen election observation in Africa (to take just two of the many example in Diamond’s, 2010, sweeping account).

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