Beware of hospitals asking for your palm print

Some hospitals are now asking their patients to scan their palms, ostensibly to compile a biometric data base to prevent identity theft.

Don’t do it! Nor is the palm scan mandatory; it’s purely optional. But they won’t volunteer that information unless you ask.

palm print scan

Natasha Singer reports for the New York Times, Nov. 10, 2012, that she was told they needed to scan her palm “for her file” when she recently visited a doctor’s office at New York University Langone Medical Center.

Singer balked. As she explains: “As a reporter who has been covering the growing business of data collection, I know the potential drawbacks — like customer profiling — of giving out my personal details. But the idea of submitting to an infrared scan at a medical center that would take a copy of the unique vein patterns in my palm seemed fraught.”

Despite her reservations, Singer still complied. Next, they wanted to take her photo. Only then did an office manager appeared and explained that the scans and pictures were optional. But by then, Singer’s palm print was already in their system.

Consumer advocates are sounding the warning that more and more institutions are employing biometric data “to improve convenience,” but we are paying for that convenience with the loss of our privacy.

Fingerprints, facial dimensions and vein patterns are unique, and should be treated as carefully as genetic samples. So collecting such information for expediency could actually increase the risks of serious identity theft. Yet companies and institutions that compile such data often fail to adequately explain the risks to consumers.

Pam Dixon, the executive director of the San Diego-based advocacy group World Privacy Forum explains: “Let’s say someone makes a fake ID and goes in and has their photo and their palm print taken as you. What are you going to do when you go in? Hospitals that are doing this are leaping over profound security issues that they are actually introducing into their systems.”

N.Y.U.’s system, called PatientSecure and marketed by HT Systems of Tampa, has already scanned more than 250,000 patients. In the United States, over five million patients have had the scans, said Charles Yanak, a spokesman for Fujitsu Frontech North America, a division of Fujitsu, the Japanese company that developed the vein palm identification technology.

Yet, unless patients at N.Y.U. seem uncomfortable with the process, medical registration staff members don’t inform them that they can opt out of photos and scans. Neither does N.Y.U. have formal consent, which raises red flags for privacy advocates. “If they are not informing patients it is optional,” said Joel Reidenberg, a professor at Fordham University Law School with an expertise in data privacy, “then effectively it is coerced consent.”

He noted that N.Y.U. medical center has had recent incidents in which computers or USB drives containing unencrypted patient data have been lost or stolen, suggesting that the center’s collection of biometric data might increase patients’ risk of identity theft.

At her request, N.Y.U. medical center did delete Singer’s palm print.

Here’s what to do if a hospital, doctor’s office, or some other institution wants to scan your palm, take your photo, or obtain some other biometric information from you:

  • Calmly ask if what they’re asking is mandatory (required) or optional.
  • If it’s optional, say “No.”
  • If mandatory, ask to see a written statement of that policy and where in law does it say the institution has the right to your information.

~Eowyn

11 responses to “Beware of hospitals asking for your palm print

  1. Reblogged this on Biblical Times News and commented:
    My palm print was taken [ over and above my vociferous objections ] years ago when I was pulled over having a tail light out. Yes, a tail light. I was taken into the rural county police station and forced to have palm prints and all fingerprints from both fingers entered into a database. All of this was justified , I was told, because there was an outstanding ticket on my record. This all took place in Colorado, as I was passing through, on my way to the east coast. I tried to maintain my right not to be “palm printed” but it did no good. I was told I would be jailed indefinitely if I did not yield up palm prints, while the officers “confirmed my identity.” This took place in the summer of 2006. I have never returned to Colorado. The experience was unnerving. I definitely had the gut feeling that the officers were using the tail light being out as a pretext to get me into the station and get me palm printed. It was harrowing.

  2. This is concerning. Texas (Department of Public Safety) requires individuals who want a concealed handgun license to have palm and finger prints and photo picture taken. However, Iowa there is no such requirement and you only fill out a form with the local county sheriff department. Few states have the same requirements.

  3. “O brave new world, that has such people in’t!”
    William Shakespeare, The Tempest, Act V, Scene I, ll. 203–206

    The madness never ceases, does it? And when it can turn a profit for someone, it becomes the new normality. This is the stuff that makes a conservative feel a profound chill coming over what passes for our culture and civilisation, such as they are….

  4. “Identity Theft?” Get “REAL!” Do you really think that is what this is all about? Heck NO!…Don’t worry about that! Worry about losing your “soul” as being able to identify you in a “crowd” becomes easier when you have been “documented” in so many different ways!

  5. Thank you Dr. Eowyn for this most interesting post. I will remember it! Instead of protecting the public, this process opens the public to identity theft.

  6. Reblogged this on YourDaddy's Politics and commented:
    All this stops when the power goes out….everywhere.

  7. ChrisYAHanWatcher4YAH

    Seems like 1st. 4th. 5th. natural Rights Constitutional Violations and likely other Privacy Rights Violations absent issuance of a bona fide lawful WARRANT; predicated upon Probable Cause, Supported by Affadavit taken under lawful oath or affirmation under pains or penalties for Perjury; sufficient to Have a Lawful JUDGE issue a Warrant. Else it be Obtaining Evidence Unlawfully absent Full Disclosure thereby Evidencing against one’s self by Coercive Deception to obtain Private Bio-spiritual essence?

  8. My elderly cousin, who lives in San Antonio, Texas was photographed in the doctor’s office. They would not accept a drivers’ license with a picture on it. Down here (on the Gulf Coast) one of my elderly aunt’s doctors has joined an ACO, which is part of Obamacare. During her office visit this week, she was subjected to a long questionaire with personal questions having nothing to do with health problems, which will be shared with a network of doctors. She was very upset and wants to change doctors. She is also being mailed questionaires from an accountable care coalition in Houston, Texas. She doesn’t know any doctors or anyone else in Houston. She asked for a list of all the doctors who will receive her health information, but they refused. They want to share her information, but will not share information with her. She is afraid that if she is ever denied treatment by one doctor, she will be refused treatment by all the doctors in the network. It is really scary.

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