Meeting Dr. Peel

Medsphere, and the Shreeve Tragedy have left me a little jaded. I have little patience for those who threaten the health FOSS community. Believe it or not, I rarely allow my aggression to turn public. I can think of at least 5 friendships with current FOSS community members, that began with rather nasty emails originating from me. Most of these useful harassments never make it into the public eye. The work that Dr. Peel has done with Microsoft around their HealthVault line has been a notable exception. Dr. Peels public endorsement of Microsoft originally shocked me so greatly that I felt I had to publicly respond.

So it was with great anticipation that I was able to hear Dr. Peel speak for the very first time today at HIMSS 08. In her talk, she indirectly addressed many of my criticisms. Lets review some of the “potshots” that I have taken at her, and detail what I heard in her talk about this issues.

Dr. Peel detailed her plans to create a new organization to perform privacy reviews of PHR sourcecode and privacy policies.

Apparently the new certifying organization will not certify PHR systems, without performing a sourcecode review.

Obviously, through the new certifying organization, the “endorsement” of Microsoft would become a formal matter. The endorsement would be withdrawn, if Microsoft started behaving badly.

I wish that I could believe that Dr. Peel started these initiatives in response to my criticisms (it would make me feel very important indeed to know that she was listening), however it is entirely possible that she may have had this plan in her organizations Skunk Works long before I was saying anything.

Here are some further snippets that I found comforting from her presentation.

  • She has claimed that she has not taken any money from Microsoft, she gets her funds from her own network of friends and supporters. (Transparency is good)
  • When I asked about the clause in Microsoft’s privacy policy that specifically gave permission for Microsoft to off-shore data storage, she immediately replied that she thought that was totally unacceptable.
  • While she listed Microsofts Healthvault as a “good” project, she also listed Microsoft on the pages of privacy violators, so she both endorsed and condemned them in the same talk.
  • She talked to me after her talk and was quite friendly

The only thing I could criticize about her talk specifically was her slide about the VA data thefts. She had put a WorldVistA logo on the top of the page, but the data breaches were a problem within the VA, and had nothing to do with WorldVistA. WorldVistA is a private organization that shares an interest in VistA with the VA, but otherwise is not connected with the VA at all, and certainly had nothing to do with the data breaches. In fact WorldVistA has and will continue to improve the overall privacy and security of private installations of VistA. Still, I am probably the only person in the crowd who even noticed this, and I doubt anyone thinks negatively about WorldVistA as the result of her talk.

In short, Dr. Peel is probably going to address the bulk of my complaints. She may have been planning to for months before I said anything.

So this is not a retraction of my attacks against her, but rather a reprieve. (When someone turns around like this a reprieve from criticism is popular within our community). If she continues on this path, I will fully retract my criticisms towards her personally.

Also note, that despite the fact that HealthVault has surprised me recently, it has NOT earned a reprieve yet. That may happen in a following post. There seem to be some changes in the privacy policy, and there has been some movement towards open-ness. HealthVault has invited me to engage them in person and I plan to do that before the conference is over. I am hopeful.


2 thoughts on “Meeting Dr. Peel

  1. Fred,
    None of that changes the fact that the woman is under-informed and under-prepared to speak, and as a result unpersuasive.

    She doesn’t make a case by logic, but is all about trying to evoke an emotional response about the “shocking” lack of privacy. She presents accusations as fact, without support, attribution or evidence. She quotes people out of context and in ways opposed to their original intent.

    I am a security professional very concerned about the privacy and security of people’s health information. I actually work at this professionally every day and fully understand the issues involved, unlike Deborah Peel. What she is promoting is not what most Americans want (she provides NO empirical evidence that they do) and not consistent with how Americans choose to run their personal affairs.

    I was in the audience yesterday and it can’t have escaped your notice that the auditorium HIMSS provided could have held over 1000 people. But it was less than 1/4 full, with many people leaving while the talk was in progress. This should certainly be an indication that she has fundamentally mis-read the climate of public opinion on this issue.

  2. excellent points Marian!

    Just because she effectively answered some my complaints does not mean I fully endorse everything that she says. One of the posts that I have not mentioned is my “devil is in the details” post, that discusses why real privacy is such a complex issue.

    Hopefully Dr. Peel will be willing to continue engaging with me privately and if she does, I will definitely bring up your concerns. You are not the first privacy professional to share this opinion with me, and I think what Dr. Peel might need to hear is that exoneration might also be found in the details that she views from 10000 ft.

    Broad brush strokes will only go so far….


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