Restrict Access to Electronic Documents

As electronic documents become more prevalent, courts must balance the rights of the public to have access to information about their case against the need to safeguard privacy. Iowa is one of the states that have already passed rules restricting access to certain kinds of documents. The other states are considering different choices.

First, the courthouse and electronic public access should both be able to view any files that have not been sealed. This approach would require lawyers and pro se litigants guard privacy and security concerns on a case-by case basis by removing information from electronic public access. This alternative is based on the assumption that sensitive information should be excluded from the file when it does not help in understanding the outcome of the case.

A covered entity is not able to deny access to PHI due to the fact that they or their business associates store the information requested by an individual (e.g. the information is maintained by a record-storage company offsite). This ground of denial is only applicable to situations where an individual can demonstrate that the business associate’s management of the PHI may cause significant harm or injury.

The final basis of denial is when a licensed health care professional concludes in the exercise of their professional judgment that providing access to a particular person’s PII is reasonably likely to endanger the physical or life security of the individual. This exception should be narrowly defined to protect individuals’ privacy interests and their right under the Privacy Rule to make informed choices about their health treatment.

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