The federal government has moved to introduce extra privacy and security changes to the legislation behind the controversial My Health Record just a week out from the end of the opt-out period.
The proposed amendments are focused on introducing tougher penalties for system misuse, including by employers, as well as strengthening provisions to safeguard against domestic violence.
They add to the August changes to privacy provisions to make it harder for agencies and police to gain access to the content of a personal electronic health record and allow individuals to delete records permanently at any time.
The changes will see penalties for the improper use of a My Health Record increase from the current two years imprisonment to five years. Maximum fines will also rise from $126,000 to $315,000.
Proposed domestic violence protections will ensure that children cannot be represented by someone that has “restricted access” or “may pose a risk to the child, or a person associated with the child”.
The amendments would remove the requirement for the operator of the record system, the Australian Digital Health Agency, to notify individuals about decisions in instances “where there may be a risk to a person’s life”.
Employers will be prohibited from gaining access to the records of employees or potential employees to protect them from discrimination.
The government pledged that no health information, de-identified or otherwise, would be released to private health insurers or other insurers for research or public health purposes.
Announcing the changes on Wednesday, Health Minister Greg Hunt said the government had “examined the recommendations from a Senate Inquiry” into My Health Record and listened to concerns raised by key stakeholder groups and users.
“These proposed amendments are in addition to the amendments announced in July, which have already passed the lower house,” he said.
“They include that law enforcement agencies can only access a person’s My Health Record with a warrant or court order and anyone who chooses to cancel a record at any time will have that record permanently deleted.”
Hunt also noted that despite the introduction of additional safeguards, no “actual cases of such concern” had been identified by the senate committee as having occurred during the e-health record’s six years of operation.
The government is also planning to conduct a review around default access to the records of 14-17 year olds for parents.
Individuals have until November 15 to withdraw their consent from the My Health Record scheme.
More than 1.1 million Australians had opted out of the scheme as at October 24.