State Agency Sells or Gives Away Data
Technology Used by For-Profit Companies
Strips Away Inadequate Layers of Security
Investigative Report by Suzanne Batchelor
© The Austin Bulldog 2010
Maybe you, like so many others, couldn't get away on vacation this summer. Never mind. If you were a patient in a Texas hospital in the past ten years, the intimate details of your hospital stay made the trip for you. This could be your souvenir: “My hospital story went to Colorado, Arizona, California, New Jersey, Ohio, Tennessee, Washington, D.C., Dallas, Texas, and maybe my employer, and all I got was—heck, not even a T-shirt.”
Let’s say your spouse suffered a heart attack three years ago, was successfully treated at a Texas hospital, and today gratefully eats a Mediterranean diet. You might be surprised to learn that the intimate details of that hospital stay—not just the diagnosis, surgeries, and who paid the bill, but your spouse’s date of birth, gender, and address—were sold by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS). The detailed story of that hospital stay now sits in computers across the country.
The data about hospital inpatients that DSHS collects and distributes is invaluable in public-health and medical research, such as a study of children with asthma in the Rio Grande Valley. But just as often it is non-physicians who use, sell, and re-sell hospital-patient data again and again, generating profit and imperiling personal privacy.
The same patient-data files are sold or given to trade groups, lobbyists, businesses, and even anonymous downloaders. All without your consent.
Posted Wednesday June 30, 2010 8:31am
But Do All Texans Have Access?
The long-awaited broadband map of Texas was released to the public on June 16—well over a year since the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Stimulus Package) was signed into law, with $7.2 billion in funds earmarked for broadband expansion. The map boasts the use of new interactive broadband mapping platform, BroadbandStat, which allows a street-level view of broadband availability. It also provides the ability to continually enhance and upgrade the data, and gives users the ability to search by address and see the type of technologies used in their service areas, as well as their choice of providers and costs.
The Texas broadband map was created by Connected Texas, a subsidiary of Connected Nation, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., that was hired a year ago by the Texas Department of Agriculture and the Public Utility Commission of Texas.
A fundamental requirement for the distribution of stimulus funds has been the determination of need and the geographical location of those who lack broadband access, particularly in rural and remote communities. Connected Texas says that the Texas broadband map—which includes data from 123 state providers—indicates that 3.5 percent of Texas households, approximately 257,000 residences, mostly in rural regions, do not have access to home broadband service. This, says Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, hinders opportunities for business development and access to telemedicine, higher education and e-government.
Broadband mapping errors
The much-anticipated findings are, at best, inaccurate and, in the worst case scenario, may be deceptive, due to multiple errors. One of the problems the map presents is that, in some instances, it shows coverage where there is none, and lack of coverage where there has been broadband presence for quite some time. Another difficulty the map presents is that it indicates wireless presence where there has never been any known provider, as is the case in Hood and Somervell counties.