The National Privacy Commission (NPC) said in an advisory on Monday, April 6, that it does not agree with the calls of certain quarters for patients to temporarily set aside their data privacy rights as the battle against Covid-19 rages.
The NPC issued the statement after the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP), the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), and the Philippine College of Surgeons (PCS) made a joint plea for patients to voluntarily waive the confidentiality of their medical condition and inform those they have been in close contact with.
The three groups of professionals said waiving the privacy rule will mitigate the number of medical personnel, particularly doctors, who have died because of infections from Covid-19 patients. Besides, the organizations pointed out that the confidentiality of medical data is not absolute under current laws if public health and safety are at risk.
The NPC said, however, that temporarily setting aside the data privacy rights is not the way to go as there are still enough provisions in the Data Privacy Act of 2012 that allow contact tracing, treating patients, and addressing threats while guaranteeing the privacy of Covid-19 patients, persons under investigation (PUIs), and persons under monitoring (PUMs).
“Where they may falter in cooperation, as when they refuse to provide details or conceal required information, patients can be penalized with imprisonment and hefty fines under Republic Act 11332,” the NPC said.
The privacy agency also clarified that its recent health bulletin quoted by the IBP, PMA, and PCS in its joint statement was made in connection with its appeal for the release only of “trusted and verified information,” especially during an “unfamiliar global pandemic.”
“It was never meant to support any request for the voluntary waiver by Covid-19 patients, PUIs and PUMs of the confidentiality of their medical condition,” the NPC said, adding that it is not departing from its position “that authorities and institutions should collect only what is necessary and share information only to the proper authority.”
The NPC said sharing of personal data to the general public for contact tracing will “not be helpful as this will only induce fear among these individuals given the multiple reports now on physical assaults, harassments, and discrimination endured by patients, PUIs, PUMs, and even health workers.”
“These threats to their safety and security may discourage them to report their symptoms to public authorities, take confirmatory tests, and submit to treatments,” it said. “If a patient, PUI, or PUM himself or herself would want to disclose such information, as what some public figures have done, that is their personal choice.”
The NPC stressed that even in times of calamity or a state of a public health emergency, privacy rights “remain in effect and upholding them equate to protecting lives.”