Hands off medical records

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Hands off medical records

A committee established to reform our dated and dangerous barracks culture is considering sharing the National Health Insurance Service’s computer network with the Military Manpower Administration, allowing the military to access medical records - particularly the history of mental illness - of those who await physical examinations for conscription.

The tripartite committee representing civilians, the government and the military has come up with the initiative after a public uproar over the Army’s lax management of soldiers, which resulted in the death of Private Yoon in the 28th Infantry Division from repeated beatings and the fatal shooting spree of Sergeant Lim at a general outpost in the 22nd Infantry Division earlier this year. The military devised the plan to prevent draftees with a serous level of mental illness from enlisting.

If mental health records of all conscripts are opened up, it could lead to an excessive infringement of privacy. Needless to say, medical records involving mental disorders are some of the most sensitive information in any society. If the government permits the Military Manpower Administration to peek into draftees’ private information, it might lead people to avoid doctor visits for emotional problems, and Korea’s mental disease treatment rate already stands at a meager 15 percent. In addition, those who temporarily need psychiatric help could suffer from discrimination in society.

The Private Information Protection Law stipulates that law enforcement agencies can ask for information on individuals for investigative purposes without warrants. However, the Constitutional Court ruled that when the state attempts to access the private realm of individuals - like their religious faiths, physical and mental disorders, and their sexuality - it must go through strict procedures. Therefore, checking the history of mental illness and diagnoses of conscripts could trigger serious violations to individual privacy.

Although the Ministry of National Defense and the Ministry of Health and Welfare have not fixed their position on the issue, the Welfare Ministry said it will not allow the military to access data of draftees’ medical treatment. We understand the Defense Ministry’s need to prevent military misfits from causing terrible accidents. But it can find a solution in sharing a limited amount of draftees’ mental records with the National Health Insurance Service based on a set of strict standards. Overly easy access to their medical records must not be allowed.

JoongAng Ilbo, Nov. 22. Page 38

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