Georgia Court: Personal medical records are fair game for government snooping

In a decision with frightening ramifications for the protection of a person’s most intimate medical records, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled earlier this month that a person’s medical records are no longer considered “private papers” and thus are not protected from government search warrants.  This ruling came despite language in Georgia law that exempts from the reach of a search warrant “the private papers of any person.”  Of course, a properly executed search warrant may always be used to reach any items, including medical records, that constitute ”instrumentalities of a crime,” but this recent court decision opens the door to law enforcement gaining access to personal medical records that are not themselves evidence of crimes.

This ruling comes as the federal government is moving to increase its involvement in and control over the country’s medical system; and as Washington increases pressure on state governments, physicians and hospitals to use and maintain electronic medical records.  This makes accessing those records by government agencies even easier than at present.  Moreover, neither the massive “Obamacare” law signed earlier this year by the President, nor other legislative provisions dealing with medical records (such as were contained in the “stimulus” package signed also earlier this year), establish the one provision essential to maintaining the privacy of individuals’ medical records — affirming in law that the individual himself or herself is the owner of their own medical records.   

In Georgia now, as a result of this recent Supreme Court ruling, the only protection a person has against the government gaining surreptitious access to their personal medical records, is to keep them in their personal possession — a condition that is obviously unrealistic and impossible to maintain.  Unless the legislature changes the law and makes explicitly clear that a person’s medical records (including those that might be located somewhere else, such as in their doctor’s office) constitute “private papers” and are “personal property,” Georgia citizens’ personal medical records will have virtually no protection from surreptitious access by government agents.

24 comments Add your comment

Ragnar Danneskjöld

July 23rd, 2010
8:02 am

Rather than “protecting medical data,” why not simply eliminate 90% of the laws on the books, obviating the need for government investigators? Keep the laws against murder and theft and tax evasion – abolish the rest and lessen the burden of government.

Sam ( The Cool 1 )

July 23rd, 2010
9:17 am

Pretty soon they’ll want to know how many times we watched the Cisco Kid and Pancho. Now that is getting personal. Whew!!!


July 23rd, 2010
10:22 am

At some point today, the Georgia Senate will consider “HB614″ the “Georgia Prescription Monitoring Program Act” which would establish a state surveillance system for the monitoring of prescribing and dispensing of certain mediacations. Included in the data base would be most pain relievers, anxiety medications, sleep aids, anti- diarrheals and anything containing Coedine such as Robitussin.

This bill is bad social policy and fiscal policy and it violates the privacy and due process rights of Georgia citizens enumerated in the Georgia Constitution.

It would also have a chilling effect on the the Dr.-patient relationship, the Dr. would be reluctant to prescribe anything coming under government scrutiny.


July 23rd, 2010
11:01 am

Bob, you are lawyer take them to SCOTUS. You have the degree right? You have experience right? You want what is best for American and Georgia right? Do something. I can not.


July 23rd, 2010
11:16 am

The US cannot process without info.

David S

July 23rd, 2010
11:25 am

What will be the straw that breaks the camels back? Everyone needs to ask themselves what their breaking point is.

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
11:27 am

Not much change here. the police can get a warrant easier than getting a pack of cigarettes.
Anything in possession of a doctor, a hospital, and insurance companies is not very private.
The only one without medical records is usually the patient.


July 23rd, 2010
11:48 am

“…affirming in law that the individual himself or herself is the owner of their own medical records…”

Bob what is it with you and your pronouns? Can’t you ever make the pronoun agree with the antecedent? “Individual” is singular. “Their” is plural.

How did you pass the LSAT?

Ima Nidiot

July 23rd, 2010
12:04 pm

Call me crazy,but….personally I don’t really care if sombody knows that I had my tonsils out in fourth grade, or when I got my last flu shot. Seriously, what is the big deal?

What can somebody in law enforcement really do with that information?

I could see if somebody was running for office and their history of drug abuse was found out, or if a company finds out you have a costly disease and does not hire you, or a man discovers his virgin bride had twelve children.

But seriously, what medical information could be related to committing a crime or even would be an issue in a criminal investigation?

The only issue I could think of is one of those cases where a spouse has murdered their other half by poison or neglect…but then those records would be ‘instruments of the crime’.


July 23rd, 2010
12:06 pm

Bob, you sound like a paranoid hippie….how ironic! Do you want to eliminate the invasions of privacy inherent in the Patriot Act? I thought not. Your writing is nothing but partisan crap.

bobo jenkins

July 23rd, 2010
12:08 pm


Is it true about the pictures of you licking whip cream off a stripper’s chest?

Hillbilly Deluxe

July 23rd, 2010
12:22 pm

The only one without medical records is usually the patient.

And if you want a copy of your own records, you have to pay for them.

Gerald West

July 23rd, 2010
1:47 pm

Bob, you’ve gone overboard with “privacy” concerns. Medical records are generated by medical providers and are usually kept in the offices of the providers. The records must be made available to health care insurers in order to obtain and continue health care coverage. These records are “confidential”, not “private”, and should not be released without proper authorization.

The only reason a person need be concerned about the confidentiality of his medical records is that a private health insurer might deny or cancel his health care coverage, or an employer might refuse to hire or retain his services because his medical condition would increase the cost of the employee health care plan. As it turns out, he must release his medical records, anyhow, to the health insurer as a condition of health care coverage.

Relax! The new health care law forbids private health care insurers from denying or cancelling coverage due to pre-existing conditions. So, the primary concerns about medical records privacy no longer apply.


July 23rd, 2010
10:01 pm

Man, you people who don’t care about your privacy are truly the scum of the earth because you are not only willing to give yours away, but you are more than happy to violate my rights by voting to condone or even encourage it. When the hell did you get the idea that the majority is allowed to vote to eploit the minority? Even worse, you are stupid enough to actually think that one federal law (hopefully soon to be repealed) will protect you from another federal law. There is no protection from the federal government anymore. It appears as though they are going to push and push and push until something gives. Meanwhile, clowns like you folks just keep egging them on.

When a screwed up credit score can keep you from getting a job (today’s reality), the access of medical records by virtually anyone who writes themselves a search warrant has even more ominous repercussions.

What about when the government mandates the drugging of everyone to keep them compliant, and now your blood tests become public knowledge and are used to convict you of the crime of ignoring government mandates. What if you were forced by some worthless government school system to take Ritalin or Prozac, or some other horrible drug that is later found to cause problems. What if those virtually public records are now used to deny you a job, or life insurance (the unconstitutional health care plan doesn’t guarantee that type of insurance)?

If you wish to be shortsighted, do so on your own dime. My liberty and freedom and privacy are mine and the rest of us certainly don’t need totalitarian water carriers like you to help diminish what little we have left.


July 23rd, 2010
11:24 pm

I didn’t read all the comments so someone may have already pointed this out, but in my experience as a health care worker, patients will now have more access and ownership of their health records than I ever saw in my practice.

I don’t know why I take issue with this article. If Mr. Barr gets EHRs removed from the health care lexicon, it will result in a generalized lowering of health care effectiveness, and probably contribute to further lowering longevity here in the U.S. That means fewer people living long enough to collect their social security. Now, isn’t that nice!

Hank Williams Jr.

July 24th, 2010
9:07 am

my records are my damn business…

this is big gov. running YOUR life…

it all starts in Washington

[...] Georgia Court: Personal medical records are fair game for government snooping: Via The Barr Code at Atlanta Journal-Constitution. [...]

No More Progressives!

July 25th, 2010
7:46 am

barking frog

July 23rd, 2010
11:27 am
Not much change here. the police can get a warrant easier than getting a pack of cigarettes.
Anything in possession of a doctor, a hospital, and insurance companies is not very private.

Whatever happened to that earth-shattering legislation that was going to save us all? HIPAA?

Hank Williams Jr.

July 25th, 2010
8:28 am



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July 28th, 2010
6:06 pm

Now that the government controls our healthcare system, it is only natural that they will need access to our medical records. I don’t see why people are so upset about this. The government will need our personal medical records so that their death panels can decide who is worth providing care for and who needs to die. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to pay to keep dying people alive longer than they need to be (in case you haven’t figured this out, I am being sarcastic).
This is a necessary law that will allow us to save money, which can then be used to support the expensive, failed government-run health care system.

Trust the government

July 29th, 2010
12:16 pm

I forget who said it but

“Without privacy there is no dignity. Without dignity life will be worse.”

I don’t understand statist/democrats. Ya’ll seem to think the government is made up of master mechanics. And with a few tweaks here and there they will have everything running fine for 85-95% of the population, if we just trust them enough and work with the program.

Libertarians tend to see the government as a guy with a blunt object


August 5th, 2010
3:09 pm

It is bad enough that employers can demand drug testing (that’s known to have false positives and doesn’t screen out prescription drugs) and credit checks now they soon will be able to access your medical file before you are employed? Government sets up law after law for privacy sake, so no one will be denied employment based upon things that don’t matter to the job (like race, gender, eye color, etc) and yet the same Government allows privacy loopholes the size of Mount Rushmore.

Pretty soon the one people that will be allowed to get work will have no health problems, great credit, and perfect genes (that is coming soon). Employers will be able to ask for these records but not officially use them in their hiring practices (which they will). Life will then imitate the sci-fi movie “GATTACA”. Employment will no longer be about who is the most capable employee. No one who has a yearning to work hard will get a job if they are not deemed “perfect” by some HR drone. Many HR departments already screen out some of the best people in the market but this will amp up this stupid a thousand fold.

You can give up your privacy but don’t give up mine as well. That is MY decision and it should not be anyone else’s.


August 17th, 2010
2:50 pm

Bob, this is a great read. The feds, government, higher law enforcement agencies may have access and more control on our Personal Medical Records. Despite the espionage tactics the government can pull, these PHR’s and EMR’s are just too beneficial for the patients and med practices. Yes, the data and med history may be viewable to government officials however there has to be a valid reason, such as court orders, search warrants, regulations. Almost all PHR and EMR companies like MedeFile, etc. hae privacy standards and policies that are followed.