Lawmakers look to stop the sale of smartwatch users’ health data

WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Many Americans have smartwatches, but members of Congress bet very few of them know the health records collected by the devices may be sold or traded.

A Louisiana senator is working on legislation to stop the sale of health data amidst outrage over a data-sharing deal that gave Google access to millions of Americans’ medical records.

“That should not happen,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy, (R-Louisiana).

One in six American adults wear a smartwatch that monitors their heart rate, blood pressure, even the quality of their sleep. But they can’t track what happens next with that data.

“People are beginning to realize that our medical data, which we thought was ours, is now being shared with many. And we’re not quite sure where it’s being shared,” said Cassidy.

Louisiana Senator Bill Cassidy says employers can decide to hire or insure a person based on this information.

Right now, the law protects all interactions between patients and their doctors, but doesn’t protect health data recorded on personal devices.

“When we hit accept on that privacy agreement, I’m not sure that’s clear to anybody,” said Cassidy.

That’s why Cassidy– a doctor– introduced a bill with Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen. The legislation would protect patients’ health data on their smartwatches and give the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services the power to enforce it.

“The introduction of technology to our health care system in the form of apps and wearable health devices has brought up a number of important questions regarding data collection and privacy,” Rosen said in a statement. “This commonsense, bipartisan legislation will extend existing health care privacy protections to personal health data collected by apps and wearables, preventing this data from being sold or used commercially without the consumer’s consent.”

This all comes after Google reached a deal with one of the country’s largest nonprofit health systems, Ascension, and announced plans to purchase the health tracking company, Fitbit.

Some health data experts worry the agreements could violate current health privacy laws, while others say they’re perfectly legal.

Google maintains the deals would improve patient care, but Cassidy isn’t sold.

“It’s not just me. A lot of folks in health IT after the Ascension/Google deal came out said, ‘Yeah, it’s within the letter of the law, but we need to update,'” said Cassidy.

Those changes could come from congressional hearings Cassidy hopes to hold in the near future.

Another bipartisan bill in the Senate would direct Health and Human Services to create privacy rules for these tech companies.