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Hospital Wants Critical Blogger's Anonymity Ended 181

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the privacy-not-always-right dept.
rs232 sent in a link to this story about one's right to privacy, which opens: "An unlikely Internet frontier is Paris, Texas, population 26,490, where a defamation lawsuit filed by the local hospital against a critical anonymous blogger is testing the bounds of Internet privacy, First Amendment freedom of speech and whistle-blower rights."
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Hospital Wants Critical Blogger's Anonymity Ended

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  • by Durrok (912509) <calltechsucks@gmai[ ]om ['l.c' in gap]> on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:15AM (#20793127) Homepage Journal
    "Hello slashdot, please provide me the name of this "anonymous coward" who posted about my mother's sex life and his role in it. I feel as if I've been defamed. What's that now? I can't hear you over all that laughter. Well you will be hearing from my lawyer!"
  • Libel (Score:5, Insightful)

    by FST (766202) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:17AM (#20793139) Journal
    If he's spewing false information, then libel is libel. He can and should be punished. Just because he's on the intarwebz doesn't mean he has immunity.

    On the other hand, if he's telling the truth, the hospital has no case.

    I don't see what the big deal is.
    • Re:Libel (Score:4, Insightful)

      by metlin (258108) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:22AM (#20793161) Journal
      Ahh, but how are they going to prove that it is the truth (or that it is libel)?

      I mean, he might be an insider who may know some things that an outsider may not - things that may be true but may come across as libel.

      I think that is the dilemma.
      • If the blogger's accusations turn out to be false, the blogger's credibility will fall down like those wacky conspiracy theorists. Case closed. And if they turn to be true, cool, one point for justice.

        But certainly I don't think the blogger should be arrested for libel unless he gives his name and accuses the hospital. See, he's anonymous and his credibility is null. Big deal.

        I mean, it's like the rumour about a Coca Cola bottle with a rat inside. Nobody can verify it, and it's just hearsay. Or what about the people who say there are UFOs in Area 51? Are they going to get sued for libel, too?

        Around 10 years ago, where a famous news agency reported on the Chupacabra according to some information they found "in the internet!" (lol). Gee, the internet became the Brittanica all of a sudden ;-)

        If people start believing every freaking thing they see on the internet, then the problem isn't the blogger, or the hospital. It's the bunch of idiots behind the monitors of their compies. Why should people believe an ANONYMOUS blogger? Or everyone's guilty until proven innocent now?

        It's the authorities' duty, not ours, to judge the hospital.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by metlin (258108)
          Oh I agree with you.

          I was just questioning the stupidity of the hospital's stance. Imagine a traditional print media, with someone sending letters to a newspaper about something they think is true. How would they find out who the person was? Especially if the person took measures not to be found (i.e. cut paste words from the newspaper and avoid putting their fingerprints on it blah blah).

          So why should it be any different on the Internet?

          Anonymity is one of the fundamental tenets for the preservation of pri
          • by westlake (615356)
            Imagine a traditional print media, with someone sending letters to a newspaper about something they think is true. How would they find out who the person was? Especially if the person took measures not to be found (i.e. cut paste words from the newspaper and avoid putting their fingerprints on it blah blah).

            The anonymous threat, the poison pen letter, doesn't get printed.

            • by metlin (258108)
              > The anonymous threat, the poison pen letter, doesn't get printed.

              That is at the discretion of the editor. If the editor chose to have it published, s/he could do so.
              • by Pooua (265915)
                I think the editor could be liable if he fails to exercise reasonable judgement in what he prints. Simply because comments come from a 3rd party does not excuse the paper from its responsibilities in what it publishes.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by Khyber (864651)
          "But certainly I don't think the blogger should be arrested for libel"

          Considering libel is a civil matter, arrest would be improper. Lawsuit, on the other hand...
        • by drcagn (715012)
          This issue isn't about protecting the people who read the blog from lies. Readers aren't the victims. The victim is the hospital. Stupid people are going to believe what they will believe, and for every potential hospital customer who reads libelous misinformation and goes elsewhere for medical treatment, the hospital loses business.
        • by westlake (615356)
          But certainly I don't think the blogger should be arrested for libel unless he gives his name and accuses the hospital. See, he's anonymous and his credibility is null. Big deal.

          You are not "arrested" for libel. Libel is not a crime, libel is a cause for action in a civil court.

          "Freedom of speech" has to mean something more - demand something more - than the anonymity of the poison pen.

          If the blogger's accusations turn out to be false, the blogger's credibility will fall down like those wacky conspiracy

          • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

            by Sj0 (472011)
            It is official; Netcraft now confirms: *BSD is dying

            One more crippling bombshell hit the already beleaguered *BSD community when IDC confirmed that *BSD market share has dropped yet again, now down to less than a fraction of 1 percent of all servers. Coming close on the heels of a recent Netcraft survey which plainly states that *BSD has lost more market share, this news serves to reinforce what we've known all along. *BSD is collapsing in complete disarray, as fittingly exemplified by failing dead last in
            • by Sj0 (472011)
              Nice. 3 seconds of thinking to realise that this post might -- JUST MIGHT be intended as a humorous jab at slashdot 'urban legends', and the mod uses 2.
          • In my view (IANAL), I think the paintiff should have to show that:

            1) If what they say is true, there is cause for action and
            2) They have at least some basic evidence of the accusations.

            For example, if they can produce a posting which shows that the blog did in fact claim to have received patient records, that would significantly help on showing this. I wouldn't want my medical records being handed to some blogger without my permission.

            This is an interesting case because it tests the rights to privacy of
        • You may as well read the Paris-Site blog [blogspot.com] yourself.
        • by Schemat1c (464768)

          ...monitors of their compies.
          That's disgusting!
      • It seems to me that that before you charge someone of committing libel, you must first prove that his/her accusations against you are untrue. Otherwise, how is it libel? That being said, should it really matter (to the hospital) that the accuser is anonymous? Sounds to me like the hospital simply wants to know the identity so they can snuff out the whistleblower.

        Ironically, the so-called libelous claim is that the hospital violated HIPPA privacy laws. Seeing as how they are trying to destroy the whistl
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by westlake (615356)
          It seems to me that that before you charge someone of committing libel, you must first prove that his/her accusations against you are untrue.

          The libel is in the words that is reasonable to believe will damage your reputation.

          Truth is a modern defense to an action for libel. There was in the past the belief that "truth" did not always contribute to civil and productive political debate.

          That defaming your neighbors was a disturbance of the peace.

          Imagine the zealot who makes it his life's mission to expo

        • That is serious, if an hospital employee realy did pass patient records to the Anonymous blogger that hospital is hit! It sounded like in TFA that in order for the Hospital's parent Corp to prove the libel , the Hospital has to testify that HIPPA info was improperly released in violation of federal regulations and admit that they had failed to properly safeguard the Info by alowing it's theft! Now by proveing the "libel" they prved that the libelous content was really true and provide the blogger with an ab
          • by TFGeditor (737839)
            To put another spin on the parent's comment: If the hospital sucessfully proves that employess released private patient records, it will be providing evidence against itself and said employees for federal CRIMINAL charges. HIPPA has some serious teeth. It was initiated to quell the release of information regarding AIDS paitents and prevent discrimination based thereon. In any event, for a healthcare worker or facility to release without consent any form of private patient information is to risk not only liv
      • IANAL, but in my view, I think there ought to be a basic requirement of evidentiary support prior to the outing of an identity. Basically I think that the Plaintiff needs to show the judge that:

        1) "If what we say is true, then he should be held legally accountable as a matter of law" and
        2) "Here is reason to believe that what we say might be true and why we should be allowed to procede with discovery."

        I don't think that anonymous communications should provide cover from slander and libel. However anonym
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Courageous (228506)

      Well. It's not that simple. It's fairly routine practice for large organizations to summarily terminate employees in situations like this, putting an enormous legal burden on the employee for suing for wrongful termination. You're talking six figures to press a case like this. Do you have that lying around?

      In the risk-versus-reward equation, the employer has a very high reward return through the suppression of similar activity by other employees, even if the specific employee wins their case. Fired is fired
      • by tomhudson (43916)

        It's time to start rewarding whistle-blowers, or at least giving them *SOME* legal protection. Yes, it may be abused, but firing someone for a good-faith reporting of something that is either illegal, morally indefensible, or a danger to people's physical or financial well-being, is also abuse. What ever happened to the idea of "checks and balances?" Or is it now "whoever can write the biggest check, wins in the balance."

        Of course, since this is Paris, Texas, we can next expect to read that one or both si

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by Anonymous Coward
          It's time to start rewarding whistle-blowers, or at least giving them *SOME* legal protection.

          The fact that whistle-blowers need ANY protection is pretty much a sign of how bad corporate corruption has become. You'd think that people would be lining up to hire these outstanding young men and women who had the integrity and honor to stand against malfeasance, but no, I guess everyone's too busy trying to hire toadies who will look the other way as numbers get munged and people get poisoned.
    • It's in TFA. (Score:3, Informative)

      by khasim (1285)

      Rodgers said the core question in the legal battle is whether a plaintiff in a lawsuit can "strip" a blogger of anonymity merely by filing a lawsuit. Without some higher standard to prove a lawsuit has merit, he said, defamation lawsuits could have a chilling effect on Internet free speech.

      Can someone file a lawsuit and have your anonymity removed ... just because they filed a lawsuit?

      A judge will have to "judge" whether the statements are libel or not.

    • Re:Libel (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rich0 (548339) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:24AM (#20793181) Homepage
      The issue is that many plaintiffs file a John Doe lawsuit against somebody, get their identity, and then drop the lawsuit and pursue other means of retribution.

      For example, a company suspects that a bloger saying bad but true things about the company is an employee. They know that they can't legally do anything about it - a trial will uncover the facts and show that the statements are true and thus not libel. However, they file a suit anyway to find out who the employee is. Then they drop the suit (since they'd lose it anyway). At this point that employee starts having performance problems, gets lousy assignments, and generally suffers until they quit - but of course nothing is attributed to the blog and nothing is done that would give the employee grounds to sue. Other employees of course get the message and learn not to post bad things about the company on the blog, which is what the company set out to accomplish in the first place.

      That's the problem with these sorts of lawsuits - they aren't about using the courts to obtain justice - they're about using the courts as a tool to remove the shield of anonymity used by weak people confronting strong ones who are doing something wrong.

      If the hospital were genuinely concerned about patient privacy they should go to the Feds and point out the issue and let them deal with it. The federal government would perform an investigation while protecting anonymity, and they'd be genuinely looking out for patients without an agenda of covering up hospital mistakes.
      • Yes, you bring up a very good point of the courts [powers] being misused this way. It probably doesn't happen very often, but it doesn't need to in order to have a strong chilling effect.

        While the courts naturally have a tendency to see litigants agree and save them the burden of deciding, perhaps there are cases where such laxness is not in the public interest. IMHO, courts ought to approval all settlements (including withdraw/dismissals). Once the sword of public justice has been unsheathed, the publi

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Sj0 (472011)
          Smark defendants...

          Defendants who enjoy pro wrestling even though they know it's all fake?
        • by drDugan (219551)
          of the courts [powers] being misused

          having been through a few trials myself, I've found that misuse is by far the most common application of the courts' powers - especially in EAST TEXAS.

          This is why there are so many lawyers and they are paid so much when they are good. Courtrooms are a very complex game.
      • by goombah99 (560566) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:04AM (#20793443)
        All you say is true but so what. Why should people who criticize have an expectation of anonymity or escape libel charges? Were assured free speech by our constitution but that is emphatically not an assurance of anonymous speech. We (in the US) are free to associate with whom we please and exclude reporters. But if we do say something publicly it becomes public.

        The fact that someone might fear retribution does not hold. People are obligated to testify in trials even though they might fear retribution. They don't testify anonymously. We do recognize extreme circumstances and conditions liable for abuse. That's why there's such things as the whistleblower protections laws and witness protection programs. But those are not for everyone.
        • by Rich0 (548339) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @10:17AM (#20793515) Homepage
          Whistleblowers serve the public interest. They should be encouraged to speak up and shielded in any way which is just.

          If somebody says something libelous (anonymous or otherwise) I'm fine with the courts having power to punish them. However, people should be subject to the courts and not the other way around - the courts don't exist simply to help you silence your critics.

          Judges should be able to evaluate the merits and facts of a case, and choose to not grant discovery of an identity in cases where there are not sufficient grounds to win a lawsuit. It wouldn't be hard to do - if a blog is libelous then the company should be able to show that it is factually incorrect and caused harm. Neither of these require disclosure of the blogers identity.
          • by goombah99 (560566)

            Whistleblowers serve the public interest. They should be encouraged to speak up and shielded in any way which is just .
            No they should be encouraged any way that is within the law. If you feel the law is inadequate then that is where you begin.
            • by Rich0 (548339)
              I'm more than happy to see this codified into law. What's your point? I'm arguing how courts SHOULD work - not how they currently do. The way the laws/courts operate SHOULD be just - and I'm perfectly willing to admit that sometimes they aren't in reality.
            • Whistleblowers serve the public interest. They should be encouraged to speak up and shielded in any way which is just .
              No they should be encouraged any way that is within the law. If you feel the law is inadequate then that is where you begin.
              With secret societies, hoarding ammunition and bomb shelters in Oregon?
            • by vertinox (846076)
              No they should be encouraged any way that is within the law. If you feel the law is inadequate then that is where you begin.

              American revolutionaries thought the current law was inadequate and petitioned the British government. In the end they had to take the matters into their own hands. Rule of law is important, but law can never trump your rights as an individual and cannot be taken away by any government no matter what law they pass.
          • Judges should be able to evaluate the merits and facts of a case, and choose to not grant discovery of an identity in cases where there are not sufficient grounds to win a lawsuit.

            That seems dangerous to me. After all, you would want the lawsuit tried first and only then have the identity revealed so that court papers could be served. That deprives the defendant of due process rights in my book (IANAL) because his/her view not represented in the trial. Thus such a standard would actually make it easier to go after anonymous bloggers because they would have to abide by a court order based on facts they didn't get a chance to contest.

            A better approach to me seems to be to request t

        • by cpt kangarooski (3773) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:32AM (#20794039) Homepage
          Were assured free speech by our constitution but that is emphatically not an assurance of anonymous speech.

          It's funny you say that. Mere anonymous speech is, in fact, protected. If there is something more to it, e.g. libel, then the anonymity might be lost, but otherwise it is as protected by the First Amendment as any other speech.

          Here is what the Supreme Court had to say on the subject in Talley v. California, 362 US 60 (1960) (internal citations omitted):

          Anonymous pamphlets, leaflets, brochures and even books have played an important role in the progress of mankind. Persecuted groups and sects from time to time throughout history have been able to criticize oppressive practices and laws either anonymously or not at all. The obnoxious press licensing law of England, which was also enforced on the Colonies was due in part to the knowledge that exposure of the names of printers, writers and distributors would lessen the circulation of literature critical of the government. The old seditious libel cases in England show the lengths to which government had to go to find out who was responsible for books that were obnoxious to the rulers. John Lilburne was whipped, pilloried and fined for refusing to answer questions designed to get evidence to convict him or someone else for the secret distribution of books in England. Two Puritan Ministers, John Penry and John Udal, were sentenced to death on charges that they were responsible for writing, printing or publishing books. Before the Revolutionary War colonial patriots frequently had to conceal their authorship or distribution of literature that easily could have brought down on them prosecutions by English-controlled courts. Along about that time the Letters of Junius were written and the identity of their author is unknown to this day. Even the Federalist Papers, written in favor of the adoption of our Constitution, were published under fictitious names. It is plain that anonymity has sometimes been assumed for the most constructive purposes.

          We have recently had occasion to hold in two cases that there are times and circumstances when States may not compel members of groups engaged in the dissemination of ideas to be publicly identified. The reason for those holdings was that identification and fear of reprisal might deter perfectly peaceful discussions of public matters of importance. This broad Los Angeles ordinance is subject to the same infirmity.


          Again, sometimes it is necessary to pierce anonymity. But not all the time.
          • I was looking for a good court case illustrating the Supreme Court's view on anonymous speech being protected as free speech, and you found one first.

            It seems to me that the way this should work is that the case should go to trial first, and if the hospital can prove (to judge or jury depending) that the the anonymous person did something illegal (libel, revealing private patient info), then he will be outed and punished. Otherwise he should keep his anonymity.
          • I think the distinction here is that while one is free to speak, anonymously or not, the protection is on the speech not the anonymity. That is there is no right to expect your anonymity will be preserved or that anyone will be denied the right to expose or seek to expose your identity. You may certainly publish your pamphlet, and the fact that you try to do so anonymously may not restrict the act of publishing. ( I realize There are legal situations where the act of exposure might itself be illegal--e.g
        • The fact that someone might fear retribution does not hold. People are obligated to testify in trials even though they might fear retribution. They don't testify anonymously.

          I know it's not routine to testify anonymously, but I have a (admittedly vague) impression that I've heard of anonymous testimony in cases where potential retribution was deemed an issue, e.g. mafia-related trials. Do I have this wrong?

        • by vertinox (846076)
          Why should people who criticize have an expectation of anonymity or escape libel charges?

          To be fair, some of the greatest writers of European history that criticized governments and religious organizations had to publish anonymously.

          Of course instead of being called libel, it was called sedition and heresy and punishable by death. That said, throughout history anonymous or pseudonym writers actually have said a lot things that were untrue or borderline slanderous. However, I believe this is something we ha
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        However, they file a suit anyway to find out who the employee is. Then they drop the suit (since they'd lose it anyway).

        So we need a mechanism with which a defendant can demand that the case be seen through to completion. That would seem to be the best whistle-blower protection of all. Finish the trial, complete with discovery and documentation of evidence of the validity of the claims.
      • by Tim C (15259)
        Then they drop the suit (since they'd lose it anyway). At this point that employee starts having performance problems, gets lousy assignments, and generally suffers until they quit - but of course nothing is attributed to the blog and nothing is done that would give the employee grounds to sue.

        I don't know about the US, but over here in the UK if that happened then you may well have a case for constructive dismissal [direct.gov.uk].
        • by Rich0 (548339)
          The same exists in the US (probably with a different name), but it is very hard to prove.

          If the employer fires you the next day for embarassing them (and tells you that and somebody testifies to this fact) then you'd have them nailed to the wall.

          Most likely, however, it wouldn't end this way. You'd start getting below-average performance reviews. You wouldn't get bonuses (which aren't contractually obligated). You'd never be promoted. You'd get the least interesting assignments at work (they wouldn't sw
    • While truth is an absolute defense against charges of libel or slander, it can be very expensive to defend against in court. And the allegedly libeled party can, and often does, engage in serious harassing behavior against their target. This is often enough to put an individual out of work, cost them a mortgage, ruin their career from negative publicity, destroy their professional accreditation (which is a huge deal in nursing or doctor work), or even wind up with their assets in the hands of their attacker
    • If he's spewing false information, then libel is libel. He can and should be punished. Just because he's on the intarwebz doesn't mean he has immunity.
      On the other hand, if he's telling the truth, the hospital has no case.


      From the hospital's perspective, it's totally irrelevant whether they win or lose the case. Their intent in filing is to find out which of their employees posted comments so they can be fired in retaliation.
    • If he's telling the truth, then he is witness to (and possibly participant in) a crime. He claims he's received medical records from hospital employees. Those employees are breaking the law and probably their employment contracts. He may be breaking the law by receiving (and probably soliciting) those records. The law can (to a certain extent) compell witnesses, thus there is some validity to the request that this guy be identified.

      So if he's telling the truth, he's screwed. If he's not telling the truth,

  • Hospital Blogging (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BoldAC (735721) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:17AM (#20793141)
    That was one of the reasons that I would previously let doctors post anonymously on carotids.com [carotids.com]. Medical systems are huge, reputation-based systems. If a hospital doesn't have a good community name, people will take their personal business elsewhere. So hospitals will sue and sue to protect their reps.

    Carotids has not thrived even with anonymous postings because docs are still scared. I still get frequent contacts with people considering posting... however, most never pull the trigger.

    Sad.
    • Carotids has not thrived even with anonymous postings because docs are still scared. I still get frequent contacts with people considering posting... however, most never pull the trigger.

      I suspect it hasn't thrived because it's mostly muckracking and/or tinfoil hat nonsense. If I were a doctor and wanted to break story, anonymous or not, I'd avoid your site too.
  • wellll accttualllyyy (Score:5, Informative)

    by Valar (167606) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:20AM (#20793147)
    From reading the FA, it seems like a big part of the hospital's lawsuit is that the blog has been disclosing patient information. In some cases, enough patient information that the patient could be personally identified from the posting. So yes, part of it is your standard 'they are saying bad things about me and I don't like it and I want to know who it is!', but I think part of it is perfectly reasonable-- stop writing about the patients without their consent.
    • by forand (530402)
      I agree. BUT I don't think it is the hospital's job to be enforcing such laws. Seems like it should be given to a policing agency.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by BVis (267028)
        All things being equal, I would agree; it's not a private institution's job to enforce federal regulation.

        However, HIPPA is a very fucking scary piece of legislation. If the hospital isn't doing EVERYTHING in its power to determine who's leaking this information, the patient and/or the patient's family (or survivors) can sue the hospital into oblivion. It's in the hospital's financial interest to destroy this guy by any means necessary (both because they'll lose business from negative publicity and the fe
    • Did all of the bloggers expose personal data, or did just one or a few do so ?

      I suspect it was a few, the hospital is using this as an excuse to go after all of the bloggers and get their names. The hospital management is more interested in shooting messagers than fixing issues in it's health care.

    • by khallow (566160)
      I didn't get that impresson. Supposedly the blogger has claimed to have seen patient records provided by employees of the hospital. No one says the blogger released this information. It's still a crime, if it occured.
      • Supposedly the blogger has claimed to have seen patient records provided by employees of the hospital. No one says the blogger released this information. It's still a crime, if it occured.

        If this occurred, the culpability is with the employees, IF they were healthcare professionals bound by HIPAA constraints. IF these employees were janitors, food service workers, or the like, the culpability would be on the hospital for failure to develop and utilize effective procedures for securing confidential information. In any event, the person who receives this information, the blogger in this case, is not bound by any law except his own good judgment.

        The other means by which the blogger could ha

        • by khallow (566160)
          It gives the hospital cause to subpoena the ISP for the blogger's identity.
          • It gives the hospital cause to subpoena the ISP for the blogger's identity.

            Please explain why the hospital's negligence in conforming to HIPAA regulations can be the basis for them to interfere with a blogger's rights to anonymity.

            While you are doing this, please point me to where the hospital has asked the blogger to voluntarily cooperate with their investigation of their failed internal procedures, because I don't see that anywhere. Certainly that should be the first step in the process.

            You might also explain to me why the blogging equivalent of an anonymous coward should

            • by khallow (566160)

              Please explain why the hospital's negligence in conforming to HIPAA regulations can be the basis for them to interfere with a blogger's rights to anonymity.

              Here's my understanding. A crime has allegedly been commited, according to this blogger who reasonably would know the identity of the perpetrator. Then it is reasonable for the hospital to subpoena the ISP, and then in turn subpoena the blogger. The blogger doesn't have a right to anonmity when there's reasonable evidence that they have knowledge of

    • I've read TFA, and went beyond that to find the blog (the paris site blogspot [blogspot.com] and google a little on Essent Healthcare.

      I did not see anything suggesting a violation of HIPAA on the web site (my background includes several years as the Information Security Officer for Nursing Service at a largish hospital: I'm reasonably familiar with HIPAA requirements). There is nothing illegal about a third party discussing the particulars of someone's treatment at a hospital, even when that includes information that co

      • I checked out his blog (thanks for the link) and I'm a little concerned for him:

        "I delete emails, so discovery is moot."

        IANAL, but I could see a situation where someone with enough influence could convince a prosecutor to go after him for deliberate destruction of evidence or obstruction or whatever they want to call it.

        Of course, that brings up the question "is the deliberate deletion of logs and/or emails in order to protect anonymity ok?" Obviously, if you are embroiled in a lawsuit or are under investig
        • My understanding is that destruction of evidence is only relevant when discovery has been served or you know it's about to be served - habitually deleting email after 2 weeks is just habit. Otherwise, my company would have to archive every piece of email that went through its systems.
  • HIPAA Violation! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iknownuttin (1099999) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:25AM (#20793185)
    FTFA: Fox said Essent's biggest concern is that the blogger has said some hospital employees have given him patient records. Even though they have not been posted on the blog, Fox said this represents a violation of federal law and the company needs to find the employees who are doing it.

    IF that is true, then there absolutely needs to be an investigation. I'm all for allowing folks to honestly criticize care and use medical documentation that was authorized by the patient, but getting it without patient authorization?! I would have a problem with the employees that gave it to him. If the blogger is on to something, then he should approach the patients involved and ask them for the information. In this day of litigation, I'm sure most patients would jump on board for the chance of suing for $$$.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by $pace6host (865145)

      FTFA: Fox said Essent's biggest concern is that the blogger has said some hospital employees have given him patient records. Even though they have not been posted on the blog, Fox said this represents a violation of federal law and the company needs to find the employees who are doing it. IF that is true, then there absolutely needs to be an investigation. I'm all for allowing folks to honestly criticize care and use medical documentation that was authorized by the patient, but getting it without patient

    • I'm not so sure. Malpractice and poor care are hideously difficult to prove, and HIPAA's constraints on staff providing medical details make it even worse. While you're supposed to be able to respond to a subpoena or provide records for a court order, it's extremely unsafe to reach out and blow the whistle on misconduct. If you do, if no lawsuit results or if the lawsuit fails, the whistle-blower is vulnerable under HIPAA to even more serious damage than merely a non-disclousre agreement or reputation probl
    • No shit. Doing something like that will lose you your job and sometimes even your certification. I live in a small town, and am a certified EMT-B (NJ). We don't fvck around with stuff like that, especially because everybody knows everyone else. We are subject to confidentiality agreements like doctors are. Hell, even the patient's lawyer can't get the info, or for that matter, a cop in the ER going "was he high?"

      Imagine if somebody had been doing heroin or drinking, and wouldn't tell us because he was afra
    • by Newer Guy (520108)
      So? Yesterday, I SAID that I screwed Brittney Spears! That doesn't mean that I DID! This guy CLAIMS he has patient records-but where is the proof? No Proof, no case! They are trying to get infomation based on hearsay. Figures that in Texas the judges are IGNORANT enough to grant things based upon heresay! Don't they elect their judges there? If so it makes perfect sense-moron judges elected by morons!
  • I wonder if the blogger kept his anonymity by dictating his message through a one-way mirror to a woman in a strip joint ?

    (In case you are wondering what the hell I am talking about, click here [imdb.com] and see the movie; it`s great !)
  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:36AM (#20793275) Journal
    Yes, your honour we have the information you wanted. It's right here, just as they typed it in to our "set up your blog" javascript form:

    First Name: George
    Middle Initial: L
    Last Name: Tirebiter
    Name of Blog: LawyersHospital
    URL for blog: lawyershospital.blogspot.com
    Your email address: napalmoliveXXX@yahoo.com
    City: West Gommorah
    State: TX

    Now, your honour, we also have the IP address, but it was dynamically allocated to an internet cafe in Austin Texas. We asked yahoo for info, and the info came back for the email address:

    napalmoliveXXX
    First Name: George
    Last Name: Tirebiter
    Sex: M
    Birth date: March 15, 1984
    Mother's Maiden Name: Betty Jo Bealovsky"
    Secret Question: Why does the porridge bird lay his eggs in the air?
    Answer: Crocagator pair, alligator pair - that's they so mean!!!

    And the IP address was too a different internet cafe, this one in Dallas."

    So, how much do you know about him? NOTHING!!!!

    You'd think someone at the hospital would know this is a fools errand...

    RS

    For those who aren't Fireheads: George Leroy Tirebiter and Betty Jo Bealovsky are a characters from the LP (now CD)How can you be in two places at once, when you're not anywhere at all" by the Firesign Theatre and the terms "Napalmolive" and "Lawyer's Hospital" are also inventions by the FT. As is my name, Ralph Spoilsport, and my tag line, "Shoes for Industry, Shoes for the Dead".

    • You must have created an account just like me. Under preferences, the real name is listed as (no real name given)
  • Medical Records? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2007 @09:49AM (#20793353)
    "Fox said Essent's biggest concern is that the blogger has said some hospital employees have given him patient records. Even though they have not been posted on the blog, Fox said this represents a violation of federal law and the company needs to find the employees who are doing it."

    If he hasn't posted them on the blog, how are they so certain he's been given patient records?

    This sounds to me like maybe some of the employees told him something, probably *without* giving him access to the patient records, and possibly without any specifics (e.g., "we had a patient where x happened, and that was messed up"), and the company is crying 'he's been given medical records!' to make it seem like they have a better reason to get the employee names than they actually do.

    • by Z00L00K (682162)
      And if he has medical records provided to him through the patients? Then the hospital has nothing to come with?

      Some court cases should be allowed to proceed without the prosecuted persons identity revealed until after conviction to avoid unpleasant side-effects. And even if medical records were given out - but without the patient's identity revealed - are they still a problem since a specific person can't be directly identified through them. The only thing that may be possible to reveal that way is if the

      • The only thing that may be possible to reveal that way is if the hospital is doing a good job or if they are incompetent.

        That, ultimately, is the issue. Keep in mind, however, that having the records may mean less than you think it does.

        A certain local hospital in my area, a number of years ago, screwed up bigtime on one of my family members. It was pretty serious (major lawsuit material, had we chosen to pursue it) and involved flying my relative out the next day (via air ambulance) to a hospital in
  • T'would truly suck.
  • That way if they are unattractive they can be sued into poverty.
    And if they are hawt, they can be made into media darlings.
  • by Dr_Art (937436) on Saturday September 29, 2007 @11:32AM (#20794043) Journal
    Here's a better link that includes links to the actual court documents: http://www.citmedialaw.org/texas-judge-orders-discovery-anonymous-bloggers-identity [citmedialaw.org]

    The blog is here: http://the-paris-site.blogspot.com/ [blogspot.com]

    I don't see how the blogger is liable for anything HIPAA related. The complaint references criminal law and Essent's own responsibility to keep patients' information private, nothing relevant to a blogger or the independent actions of Essent's employees. E.g., Essent could fire the employees under the confidentiality agreement, but they reference no matter of law that says the employees are otherwise liable. There may be some other documents or law not mentioned by the complaint, but I don't see how the blogger is a party to such matters, especially since he/she likely never signed the employees' confidentiality agreements. Also, I don't see how Essent has standing to prosecute federal HIPAA violation in state civil court.

    I don't know why the blogger and the other Does are joined in a lawsuit as well. Any HIPAA violation between Essent and employees would be a distinct event from the publishing of any such information on the blog. As in the RIAA lawsuits, it seems this would be a valid way to appeal the imminent order from the judge. (Although remember this is state district court and the RIAA lawsuits are federal district court.) Also note that the blogger's lawyer has come forward (see lawyer's Aug letter, although the judge's Sept order says he has not), so the case can continue on it's merits without the need to disclose the blogger's identity.

    I also don't see any specific allegations of defamation. Defamation is hard to prove, and I don't see anything in the complaint that couldn't be interpreted as opinion by a reasonable person, or is simply disclosing internal happenings in the hospital, which would be known to a lot of the hospital's employees and patients. If a hospital employee relates false information on the blog or to the blogger, then that employee would be the defamer, and not the blogger. E.g., who would reasonably assume that an anonymous blogger would be an authority on the inner workings of Essent, and use that one blogger's opinion to judge Essent? Of course, it's possible the blogger is an employee. It's also possible that the blogger and all other Does are patients.

    Finally, I was amused by a couple of things in the complaint. First, to see an employer refer to the employees' "breaches of the employees' duty of loyalty". What?!? Employers and employees have a legal obligation of loyalty? I sure haven't seen many employers show loyalty to their employees, but then that's another thread... Second, the complaint says the blog is publicly available (that's how the hospital's business would supposedly be harmed), and that "...the blog has as it's sole purpose to conduct a one-sided attack and disparagement of the Hospital, PRMC, and their employees and doctors, and is in no manner intended to be an open and fair discussion of issues." OK, so that's why you filed a lawsuit instead of posting to the publicly available blog your open and fair rebuttal of the issues raised?!?!

    I don't know the blogger, the other Does, or Essent, and IANAL, so I can only hope the truth of this matter comes out in court.

    Regards,
    Art
    • by rhizome (115711)
      If a hospital employee relates false information on the blog or to the blogger, then that employee would be the defamer, and not the blogger.

      The hospital may be running a gambit to get the identity of the blogger so they can subpoena them for the submitter's identity. Backtracking the leak.
  • HIPAA doesn't bar release of information about management of a hospital, finances of a hospital, etc. It's merely the INSURANCE records that are to be kept secret. (other statutes cover patient privacy, but if Nurse Smith hands over records, the publisher of the records is not the one who should be in trouble, it's the nurse)

    In fact, HIPAA doesn't prevent a relative or friend of a patient from telling all they know about a patient.

  • By initiating a lawsuit, they are getting the attention of the media. The small handful of people that may have read the anonymous post has increased to thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands. As a result, the number of people that question whether this is just an anonymous nut or a real-life whistle-blower has also increased.

    Why pursue an anonymous comment with the force of law? Is there really something behind it? What are they trying to hide?

    That's the train of thought that the hospital has init
    • You have provided a concise description of the Streisand Effect; Let us relish in schadenfreude together as those ignorant of it get pwned by it :)
  • As a Canadian, I'm still amused by a hospital getting upset because they might lose business...
    You Americans are weird people sometimes.

The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not "Eureka!" (I found it!) but "That's funny ..." -- Isaac Asimov

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