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DeepMind’s access to NHS data is “legally inappropriate”

Alphabet-owned artificial intelligence laboratory DeepMind has accessed the personal records of 1.6 million UK patients in a way the NHS’s senior data protection adviser has labelled “legally inappropriate.”

According to Sky News, Britain’s National Data Guardian Fiona Caldicott flagged up in a letter to the Royal Free NHS Trust how sharing sensitive patient data with the AI firm—as the hospital is doing— had no defensible legal basis.

The Royal Free is one of a number of NHS Trusts which have been working closely with DeepMind, as London-based tech company is developing a new mobile app , Streams, aimed at monitoring patients’ vital signs and instantly warn doctors and orderlies if something is out of the ordinary.

“It would not have been within the reasonable expectation of patients that their records would have been shared for this purpose,”  the letter reads. Caldicott also said she would bring the issue to the attention of the Information Commissioner’s Office, which is already looking into the NHS-DeepMind data sharing practices in a separate investigation.

The Royal Free hospital commented on the letter,aying: “Real patient data is routinely used in the NHS to check new systems are working properly before turning them fully live. No responsible hospital would ever deploy a system that hadn’t been thoroughly tested. The NHS remained in full control of all patient data throughout.”

The National Data Guardian, while acknowledging that there is not a standard set of rules to assess privacy matters related to the trialling of new technologies, said that the  “purpose for the transfer of 1.6m identifiable patient records to Google DeepMind was for the testing of the Streams application, and not for the provision of direct care to patients”.

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