The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) is the law the specifically singles out records related to health care as a special class of personally identifiable information. This law gives patients specific rights to control their medical records, requires health care providers and others who maintain this information to get specific permission in order to share it, and imposes penalties on the institutions that breach this trust. Since much of this information is now shared via electronic medical records, the protection of those systems becomes paramount.
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When it comes to getting permission to share personal information, the US and the EU have different approaches. In the US, the “opt-out” model is prevalent; in this model, the default agreement is that you have agreed to share your information with the organization and must explicitly tell them that you do not want your information shared. There are no laws prohibiting the sharing of your data (beyond some specific categories of data, such as medical records). In the European Union, the “opt-in” model is required to be the default. In this case, you must give your explicit permission before an organization can share your information.