South Korea Holds Onto Patient Data From Prior Coronavirus, Worrying Privacy Groups

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Workers wearing protective suits fumigate an art hall with antiseptic solution as a precaution against the spread of the Middle East respiratory syndrome in Seoul, South Korea, in June 2015.

Lee Jin-man/AP

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Lee Jin-man/AP

South Korea has acknowledged it is permanently keeping data on patients from a previous virus epidemic, worrying privacy advocates that the government is sidestepping legal safeguards protecting personal information. The data is from the country’s patients who were infected with the Middle East respiratory syndrome, or MERS, which in South Korea caused the largest outbreak outside the Middle East in 2015. That outbreak led the country to launch a robust contact-tracing program that health officials currently use to fight the new coronavirus. But South Korea’s Personal Information Protection Act says that after citizens’ collected data serve their purpose, the government must delete them without delay. “When the outbreak ended, public opinion was that the government should take follow-up measures to address any complications or patients’ health issues even after they are released from treatment,” Kwon Jun-wook, director of the National Institute of Health, said in response to NPR’s question at a news conference earlier in June about what happened …

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