“ATTENTION K-MART SHOPPERS! NOW BEING FEATURED IN ASLE 1 . . .” INTERNET BREACH OF PRIVACY!
I was recently on a “Professional” social media site where questions are asked of attorneys, and answers are attempted by the attorneys (without constituting legal advice, of course). While scrolling through the questions, I came across one from a therapist who, having been made aware that a teenaged minor was endangered by her home situation (an abusive parent), wanted to know if she could be “emancipated” and what would be involved. While they should have simply spoken with a local attorney, this, in and of itself, was not the issue.
In the question, the therapist reveals the name of the minor, the town where she lives, and even gives her own name and a telephone number where she can be reached. I have no doubt that the therapist’s intentions were good, and that the perceived urgency of the situation was the reason why she felt it necessary to disclose so much information, but instead of helping her client, she has now violated nearly every confidentiality statue, regulation and ethical standard I can think of, while also opening herself up to lawsuits from almost everyone involved, including the abusive parent. She has even increased the vulnerability of the minor in question to possible predators.
Would she have posted all this information on a bulletin board in the public square? Probably not, yet that is exactly what she did. She may get away with it this time because the site where she posted it is a legal site, and her client and her client’s relatives may not ever see it. On the other hand, we all know how often these things go “viral.” Once again, I offer this warning; when you write about health information (or any information for that matter) on ANY site on the Internet, it is equivalent to shouting it to the world through a loud speaker and posting in the public square.
The rule of thumb that derives from this is:
NEVER POST ANY IDENTIFIABLE INFORMATION ABOUT YOURSELF OR ANYONE ELSE, THAT YOU DO NOT ACTUALLY WANT EVERYONE IN THE WORLD TO KNOW.