NGO calls for analysis of data intensive systems in PH

The Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA), a non-profit NGO in the Philippines focusing on ICT, has released a briefing paper on data-intensive systems (DIS).

The document discusses the benefits and risks of DIS — with particular emphasis on HIEs (health information exchanges) — based on the actual experience of different countries. It noted that governments and companies around the world are now using DIS to improve service delivery and operations management.

“Their strategy is consistent with this global concerted effort to digitize practically everything today. Common DIS examples include customer databases, national ID registries, voter registries, SIM card registration systems, smart city projects, and HIEs,” it said.

While a DIS may be of significant value, its inherent risks should make everyone cautious and critical, according to the paper.

“By allowing users to build comprehensive individual profiles, usually coming from different sources, proponents claim that a DIS promotes transparency and facilitates better access to basic social services. However, it also comes with inherent risks like surveillance of persons and groups, unlawful profiling, function creep, and discrimination,” it said.

“With HIEs, these systems allow patients and physicians to access medical data online, making care coordination among healthcare providers possible. They also save treatment and diagnosis time and costs. Yet implementers and users from around the world have also been witnesses to HIEs being prone to hacking, and vulnerable to human error. Accountability also becomes untraceable in the long run,” it observed.

The document noted that in the domestic front, the Philippine Health Information Exchange (PHIE) is currently in its testing phase, with its objectives and purported benefits similar to those of other HIEs.

“Despite having some default safeguards in place (e.g., a national data protection law, and a data protection authority), numerous factors still come into play and can jeopardize the safety and privacy of people whose personal data are stored in the system,” it stressed.

FMA emphasized that is not against the use of DISs but it is calling for a comprehensive planning and analysis of such systems in order to minimize the risks that go along with their use.

“The organization urges the public to remain critical and vigilant when presented with these new technologies, so that they don’t end up causing more problems vis-à-vis the ones they intend to address,” it said.

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