Wednesday, August 6, 2008

When Is A Gun Shot Like A Drug Prescription?

I came across two articles this week that caught my eye. The first was a Washington Post article about how insurance companies are accessing data bases on prescription drug records in order to determine whether to issue insurance policies to individuals. The article refers to these as "health credit reports". (Apparently, consumers consent to this use, but the article does not explain how such consent is obtained or what disclosure is provided.) Privacy advocates are concerned that there may be mistakes, and also that one prescription can be used to deal with a variety of ailments, which is not always clear to those reviewing the report. Recently the Federal Trade Commission determined that these reports are credit reports subject to FTC jurisdiction pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act.

The reason I found this interesting is that I have been wondering for a while whether the FTC will use its broad powers to begin regulating spatial data. I think this article is a further indicator it might.

The second article is related, at least in my mind. It discusses how the Boston police are finally getting useful results from sensors that have been placed in high crime areas around the city to identify gun shot sounds. (The thought is that the police can respond more quickly). Apparently, the system took a while to work properly as there were a number of times when the sensors improperly identified sounds.

It is easy to see how this system could be of tremendous benefit. One can also imagine other types of helpful sensors being deployed, in addition to the CCTV camers that are becoming more ubiquitious. However, I know that there are a number of very smart people who can figure out how to use these data sets in ways that go beyond the purpose the data was originally collected. Insurance companies for example. Which brought me back to the first article. Which is why I see the articles as being related.

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