Privacy concerns over newborn blood tests

  • by Arlo Gilbert
  • · posted on September 15, 2022
  • · 3 min read
Privacy concerns over newborn blood tests

Happy Thursday everybody! One of the stories in this week’s Privacy Insider caught my eye — it has to do with a practice called the heel-stick test performed on newborn infants.

Within 48 hours after birth, doctors prick the heels of infants to test their blood for a range of metabolic and hormone disorders that aren’t immediately symptomatic but can be dangerous if left unrecognized and untreated. It’s so crucial that it’s often legally required and doesn’t require parental consent.

The issue isn’t with the test itself. The issue is what’s done with the excess blood samples afterward. Often, these samples are retained for decades afterward and are used — without parental consent — for any number of purposes, including criminal investigations. In fact, the story we linked to below describes a case in which an infant’s excess blood sample was used for a DNA analysis to gather evidence against the child’s father. According to a lawsuit over the issue, this allowed the police to obtain DNA evidence without showing probable cause first.

Data privacy professionals will probably recognize two key privacy concepts being violated here: retention and purpose limitation. These samples are being used for purposes beyond what they were originally intended for, and they’re being retained indefinitely without consideration for whether their original purpose has been satisfied.

It should be noted that the medical industry is regulated by more specific laws than omnibus data privacy laws like the CPRA and GDPR. Still, this story illustrates how privacy concerns can crop up in almost every aspect of life (like medical care for a newborn) and how essential the principles behind data privacy legislation really are.

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Best,
Arlo


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About The Author · Arlo Gilbert

Arlo Gilbert is the CEO & co-founder of Osano. An Austin, Texas native, he has been building software companies for more than 20 years in categories including telecom, payments, procurement, and compliance. In 2005 Arlo invented voice commerce, he has testified before congress on technology issues, and is a frequent speaker on data privacy rights.