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China pledges tighter privacy as it centralises personal health data

Beijing wants to 'improve the government’s management of major public health issues'

China will create “more comprehensive regulation and legislation in personal information and data protection” to facilitate a new national big data scheme it hopes will improve health policy and services.

China's State Council (the equivalent of Cabinet) announced the strategy this week, with premier Li Keqiang declaring that “Enhancing the development of medical big data is a pressing task now. It is also an important project for public welfare, in the context of a growing need for health and medical services.”

Premier Li's speech also said China needs more public health information “to improve the government’s management of major public health issues.”

China's plan calls for the creation of a “countrywide personal health information platform” that links data from local and provincial records into a national database Beijing will mine.

Part of the plan is about portability of medical records, to facilitate transferrable insurance. There's also an ambition to “ improve the government’s management of major public health issues”, which sounds an awful lot like a little bit of epidemiology and a strong dose of “oh boy, we'd better get a handle on the cost of health care now that our people are accustomed to all manner of life-extending treatments.”

That Li Keqiang has recognised the need for an improved privacy regime is notable, given China's aggressive prying into its citizens online activities. Making sure health records get better privacy therefore looks like a step into the light. Sadly Li's statements to date don't offer much detail about just how China plans to strengthen privacy.

The new plan's been offered up as an example of China's “Internet Plus” effort to make all things online fuel for the nation's next phase of economic development. ®

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