Evolving privacy regulations, changing legal interpretations, and security breaches make it hard to keep up with our rights and risks these days. People are looking for resources to help them cut through the technical jargon regarding personal health data protection. Many simply want to use the technology they have come to enjoy while keeping their health information safe and secure. 

What are health data rights?

To unpack these questions, it’s helpful to review where your health information was first accessed and what your rights are currently. When individuals in the United States consider their health information,  they may be aware that the law regulates how healthcare providers (also known as “covered entities”) use their data. First passed in 1996, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) limits third-party access to personally identifying information stored within the healthcare system. 

Many people may not be aware that this information is used outside the healthcare system for research and other uses beyond medical care. Eighteen data types were established as protected health information (PHI) in the HIPAA Privacy Rule, finalized in 2000. PHI includes types of data such as names and addresses, but it also covers “any other characteristic that could uniquely identify the individual.” However, the HIPAA Privacy Rule only applies to healthcare settings. HIPAA does not protect the privacy of our data held by app providers, government bodies, biotech companies, and other entities that don’t provide healthcare services.

“Health discovery relies on health data. Luna advocates that the most reliable, representative health data comes directly from people. This is why, from Day 1, we’ve built privacy-by-design so that we can protect people and accelerate better health interventions.”

Scott Kahn, Chief Privacy and Information Officer

Since the passage of HIPAA, the amount of information that can be gathered about us has increased exponentially, and data science has advanced significantly. Remember, we just started using email in 1996! Today, computer science methods can combine non-identifying information—as few as two to three pieces of data—into very accurate assignments of a person’s identity. Put differently, the privacy protections that HIPAA gave us two decades ago were not designed with today’s information and science in mind. 

This simple observation has motivated some states and federal legislators to enact data privacy laws that focus on a set of rights for individuals, not institutions.

Read “How Modern Data Privacy Laws Enables Research
Scott Kahn
Scott Kahn, PhD, Chief Information and Privacy Officer, Luna

You have a right to data privacy

Today, as health and tech consumers, we have rights to data privacy. Modern laws define a person’s rights when it comes to data. They require companies, governments, and organizations to respect these rights when collecting and analyzing data about consumers. We can give permission, known legally as informed consent, for the use of our data, and we have a right to know who is using our data for what, such as a clearly defined public benefit.  

In general, these newer laws require that we are provided the purpose, such as the kind of research being done, for why our data is being collected. One example of these laws in practice is the numerous cookie notifications you receive on practically every website you encounter on the internet. You have the right to change your mind about sharing your data—also known as revoking consent—and the right to confirm that the company destroyed your data. 

We live in a time where data creation is incredibly astounding. Suppose we can use that data to advance causes that matter to us. In that case, we can change the quality and velocity of health interventions. 

At Luna, we appreciate the evolution of these consumer data privacy laws and have operated since Day One to exceed their requirements.

Read about Luna’s Data Protection Impact Assessment.

About Luna

Luna’s suite of tools and services connects communities with researchers to accelerate health discoveries. With participation from more than 180 countries and communities advancing causes including disease-specific, public health, environmental, and emerging interests, Luna empowers these collectives to gather a wide range of data — health records, lived experience, disease history, genomics, and more – for research.

Luna gives academia and industry everything they need from engagement with study participants to data analysis across multiple modalities using a common data model. The platform is compliant with clinical regulatory requirements and international consumer data privacy laws.

By providing privacy-protected individuals a way to continually engage, Luna transforms the traditional patient-disconnected database into a dynamic, longitudinal discovery environment where researchers, industry, and community leaders can leverage a range of tools to surface insights and trends, study disease natural history and biomarkers, and enroll in clinical studies and trials.

Scott Kahn, Ph.D.

Scott Kahn, Ph.D.


Scott is the former CIO and VP Commercial, Enterprise Informatics at Illumina. At Luna, he’s integrating data privacy and security provisions that keep member data safe, private, and secure.