|July 22, 2013
While many news outlets are discussing the exposure of the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs, far fewer are discussing the “Federal Data Services Hub,” a database created by the Affordable Care Act.
The hub will allow access to one of the largest centralized collections of personal data in American history, perhaps even dwarfing the Next Generation Identification program and its predecessor, Secure Communities.
Stephen Parente, finance professor t the University of Minnesota, and Paul Howard, director of the Manhattan Institute’s Center for Medical Progress, wrote that the data hub “could be the largest consolidation of personal data in the history of the republic.”
“If you think identity theft is a problem now, wait until Uncle Sam serves up critical information on 300 million American citizens on a platter,” they wrote.
However, the government claims that it isn’t actually a database in the traditional sense.
The hub acts as a way to route mass amounts of personal information between state and federal systems and will not store consumer information directly, according to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS).
The data hub will be operated by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the authority of the Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare, but many others will have access to the personal information contained therein.
Data will include everything from Social Security numbers to income data, family size, citizenship and immigration status, incarceration status and enrollment status in other health plans, Investor’s Business Daily reported.
While CMS claims that the data hub won’t actually store our personal information, an Obama administration regulatory notice seems to contradict that claim.
In the filing, it is revealed that information will be “maintained in the system” and will include “but may not be limited to” the following:
“the applicant’s first name, last name, middle initial, mailing address or permanent residential address (if different from the mailing address), date of birth, Social Security Number (if the applicant has one), taxpayer status, gender, ethnicity, residency, email address, and telephone number.”
It continues to state that the “system will collect and maintain information that the applicant or the application filer on behalf of other applicants submits pertaining to” citizenship or immigration status, enrollment in “Federally funded minimum essential health coverage,” Indian status, and enrollment in employer-sponsored coverage.
It gets considerably worse from there with, “requests for and accompanying documentation to justify receipt of individual responsibility exemptions,” employer information, status as a veteran, health status information (like pregnancy status, disability, blindness), household income “including tax return information from the IRS, income information from the Social Security Administration, and financial information from other third party sources.”
To make it even more clear that CMS isn’t being all that truthful about their claims, the filing states that the “The purpose of this system is to collect, create, use and disclose PII [personally identifiable information] on individuals who apply for eligibility determinations.”
To make matters even worse, the filing states that the federal government claims the authority disclose highly personal information like that outlined above “without the consent of the individual.”
This information can be disclosed to a disturbingly broad range of entities and individuals, including “agency contractors, consultants, or grantees” who claim they “need to have access to the records” to help Obamacare function.
Individuals in law enforcement also have access to the records, in order to “investigate potential fraud.”
It is quite clear that many are quite concerned about this new database.
While some bloggers have said that “the potential for abuse is enormous,” pointing out the fact that the system would be potentially vulnerable to hackers and others, politicians have spoken out as well.
Rep. Diane Black (R-Tenn.), for instance, wrote that the Obama administration still has not answered “even the most basic questions about the Data Hub,” including a list of who will have access to what records and what training and clearances will be required for access.
You might not have a problem with such a massive database being created for the purposes of implementing Obamacare, but you probably don’t like the idea of that information being vulnerable to hackers.
Unfortunately, the federal and state governments don’t have a great track record when it comes to keeping data like this safe.
In 2012, a foreign hacker accessed 3.6 million Social Security numbers and 387,000 credit and debit card numbers from the South Carolina Department of Revenue’s computer system.
The Internal Revenue Service is similarly insecure with a 2012 Government Accountability Office report stating that security holes in IRS systems “continue to jeopardize the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of the financial and sensitive taxpayer information.”
Between 2009 and 2010, the IRS also released personally identifiable information belonging to taxpayers and failed to notify people of the breaches in a timely fashion, according to a Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration report.
In 2011, it was reported that the Social Security Administration did not tell thousands of Americans that the agency had released their Social security numbers, names and dates of birth in a widely used electronic database.
“If these government agencies can’t protect data kept on their own servers, how much more vulnerable will these databases be when they’re constantly getting tapped by the ObamaCare Data Hub?” wrote John Merline for Investor’s Business Daily.
Indeed, given the fact that so-called “Navigators” will have widespread access to your highly personal data, the chances of the information being improperly used skyrocket.
Who can actually be a navigator is not all that clear, though one document states that navigators are “organizations which facilitate education about and enrollment in qualified health plans (QHPs) through Exchanges.”
One writer stated that they are “community and consumer-focused nonprofit groups, to which exchanges award grants to provide fair and impartial public education” and “refer consumers as appropriate for further assistance.”
“Thousands of such people will have unfettered access to the Data Hub, but there are only sketchy guidelines on how they will be hired, trained and monitored,” James S. Robbins wrote.
In addition to navigators, agencies ranging from the Social Security Administration to the IRS to the Department of Homeland Security, Veterans Administration, Office of Personnel Management, Department of Defense, state governments, the Department of Justice and even the Peace Corps will have access to the data hub.
In late June, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), Health Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas), Oversight Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany Jr., M.D. (R-La.) wrote a letter expressing their concerns about the Federal Data Services Hub.
“The failure to conduct and conclude testing of the system raises questions about whether all the necessary safeguards will be in place to protect the release of confidential health and taxpayer information once the exchanges begin accepting enrollees this fall,” the signatories stated.
For those concerned about the NSA’s massive surveillance programs, it looks like you have yet another alarming government program to keep on your radar.