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Breach of Trust

Breach of Trust


While legitimate health department HIV and STD e-mail notifications reaching unintended recipients raises some privacy concerns, there have been far more serious violations of HIV patients' confidentiality'and even partner notification hoaxes. In 1997 a former Florida state health worker was sentenced to one year of probation in a case stemming from the nation's largest AIDS-related confidentiality breach. William Calvert III obtained computer disks containing information on more than 4,000 HIV patients living in the Tampa Bay vicinity and reportedly offered to let friends see the list. Calvert's former partner also was punished for the confidentiality breach. The case prodded Florida officials to tighten security of HIV patient records. More recently, at least 10 people in New York City'and several others in Virginia since February'have received fake letters that falsely informed them that a recent sex partner had tested positive for HIV. The New York letters claimed to be sent from Mount Sinai Hospital's nonexistent HIV/AIDS Notification Service; in Virginia the letters were purportedly sent from the Virginia Hospital Center. Rhonda Goldfein, executive director of the AIDS Law Project of Pennsylvania, says confidentiality breaches are always a serious concern. But she also worries that the nature of HIV and STD partner notification programs makes them too easy to be falsified or used for less than altruistic reasons. 'It's even possible people can use this for spite,' she says, suggesting e-mail notifications could be forwarded to acquaintances, friends, employers, and even family members of the person they suspect is infected. 'That's why I think using e-mail for partner notification is completely unreliable.'

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