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The HIPAA Privacy Rule broadly defines law enforcement as "any government official at any level of government authorized to either investigate or prosecute a violation of the law. Disclosures for law enforcement purposes apply not only to doctors or hospitals, but also to health plans, pharmacies, health care clearinghouses, and medical research labs. California has somewhat stronger privacy rules that require more court involvement, because HIPAA does not preempt more privacy-protective state laws.
In California, search warrants for medical records are generally authorized under the Penal Code and require judicial approval based on probable cause. Less stringent court orders based on a showing of good cause can also be used. And in California, even if a mere administrative subpoena is used, the California Penal Code requires an authorizing court order. By contrast, HIPAA permits 1 the police to use an administrative subpoena or other written request with no court involvement, as long as police include a written statement that the information they want is relevant, material, and limited in scope, and that de-identified information is insufficient.
Steer It Clear It
Law enforcement can also bypass judicial and administrative processes under HIPAA to get access to medical records. For example, the police may request medical information directly to identify or locate a suspect, fugitive, witness, or missing person; when a crime has been committed at a health care facility; or when there is a medical emergency involved in a crime.
In general, these are permissive disclosures—the covered entity or business associate may refuse. Much information may be disclosed about a suspect or victim of a crime : name, address, date and place of birth, Social Security number, blood type and Rh factor, type of injury, date and time of treatment, date and time of death, and any distinguishing physical characteristics.
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DNA test results, dental records, body fluid or tissue typing other than blood type or samples or analysis still require a court order, warrant, or written administrative request. Certain types of reporting to law enforcement are mandatory. All states require health care providers to report child abuse or neglect and most states require reporting of elder abuse and neglect.
All but four states Alabama, New Mexico, Washington and Wyoming have laws for mandatory reporting of domestic violence injuries and sexual assaults that are treated in a health care facility, although they vary greatly as to who must report, what data, and to what agency. Certain licensed professionals, like psychiatrists and psychologists, may be required by ethical standards or law to report individuals to law enforcement whom they believe are likely to commit a violent crime. There are signs that courts may be willing to impose greater restrictions on law enforcement access to medical records under both state and federal law.
A New Hampshire Supreme Court decision found that even when police obtain a search warrant to obtain medical records from a hospital, additional procedures designed to honor the state-law physician-patient privilege were required. Oregon law requires a search warrant, but the DEA asserted that an administrative subpoena was sufficient—partly because DEA claimed that individuals have no reasonable expectation of privacy in these records. Rejecting that argument, the court stated: "Although there is not an absolute right to privacy in prescription information, as patients must expect that physicians, pharmacists, and other medical personnel can and must access their records, it is more than reasonable for patients to believe that law enforcement agencies will not have unfettered access to their records.
The Attorney General's Office would like to assist you in understanding Washington law governing access to public records, and obtaining those records.
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The act establishes a strong state policy for disclosure of public records. This is an attempt to give you an overview of your right to access public records. If you would like more specific information, you should refer to the act itself. What Records Are Public? All records maintained by state and local agencies are available for public inspection unless law specifically exempts them.
You are entitled to access to public records under reasonable conditions, and to copies of those records upon paying the costs of making the copy. In most cases, you do not have to explain why you want the records. However, specific information may be necessary to process your request. An agency may require information necessary to establish if disclosure would violate certain provisions of law. While the state strongly encourages disclosure of public records, state law does allow for some information to be withheld.
Other exemptions are found elsewhere in Washington law, and in federal law. Many of the exemptions are designed to protect the privacy rights of other individuals.
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Other exemptions are designed to protect the investigative functions of law enforcement and other agencies with investigative responsibilities, as well as the legitimate business interests of other citizens. You should refer to the Public Records Act itself for specific exemptions. Just because part of a record may be exempt does not mean the entire record can be withheld.
Getting a Copy of Your Criminal Record
In those cases, the agency has the obligation to black out or otherwise remove the information it believes is exempt from disclosure and provide you the rest. If you are denied access to a public record, the agency must identify the specific exemption or other law it believes justifies its denial and explain how that exemption applies to your request. While, in general, an agency must provide access to existing public records in its possession, an agency is not required to collect information or organize data to create a record not existing at the time of the request.
The more precisely you an identify the record you seek, the more responsive the agency can be.
You may be able to obtain the addresses and telephone numbers of state agencies in current telephone directories, or you can obtain the telephone number of an agency by calling the Olympia area information operator or If you request certain public records, the agency must make them available to you for inspection or copying unless they are exempt from disclosure during customary office hours of that agency.
You should make your request as specific as you can.
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A written request helps to identify specific records you wish to inspect. Many agencies have a public records request form they will ask you to use.
After your inspection of records, you may identify those records you desire and, if copying does not disrupt agency operations, copies can be promptly made for you. The agency may enact reasonable rules to protect records from damage or disorganization and to prevent disruption of agency operations.
Each state state or local agency is required to establish an index as an aid to locating public records. The index is to be published and made available to those who request it. Agencies are required to respond promptly to your request. Within five business days after receiving a request, the agency must either:. If an agency denies your request, you may ask the agency to conduct an internal review of its denial within two business days after denial.
The agency may notify persons to whom the record pertains that release of the record has been requested. The agency, or a person to whom the record applies, may ask a court to prevent an inspection of the record. If a court order preventing disclosure is sought, the records request is on hold until further order of the court. There is no fee for inspecting public records, but the agency may charge a fee for the actual costs of copying the records.