DeepMind Hit By Legal Action Over NHS Deal

A legal action has been launched against Alphabet-owned DeepMind and sister company Google over DeepMind’s controversial use of more than one million NHS patient records.

Law firm Mishcon de Reya sait it has filed a claim with the UK High Court on behalf of lead plaintiff Andrew Prismall and about 1.6 million other individuals whose records were accessed by DeepMind as part of an NHS partnership.

The 2015 arrangement, whose terms were not initially made public, was aimed at developing a patient monitoring app called Streams.

“As a patient having any sort of medical treatment, the last thing you would expect is your private medical records to be in the hands of one of the world’s biggest technology companies,” said Prismall, who was a patient at the Royal Free London NHS Foundation Trust at the time of the deal.

‘Fair outcome’

“I hope that this case will help achieve a fair outcome and closure for all of the patients whose confidential records were obtained in this instance without their knowledge or consent.”

DeepMind declined to comment.

The British artificial intelligence company, acquired by Google in 2014, was embroiled in controversy in 2016 when New Scientist reported that its collaboration with the NHS went beyond what had been publicly announced.

The collaboration with DeepMind gave the company access to pseudonymised patient data that was used to train AI systems to recognise the signs of acute kidney injury.

A 2017 report by the UK Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) found the agreement had failed to comply with data protection law.

“Our investigation found a number of shortcomings in the way patient records were shared for this trial,” information commissioner Elizabeth Denham said at the time.

“Patients would not have reasonably expected their information to have been used in this way.”

Privacy concerns

Mishcon partner Ben Lasserson said the planned lawsuit was intended to “help to answer fundamental questions about the handling of sensitive personal data”.

He added that the action “comes at a time of heightened public interest and understandable concern over who has access to people’s personal data and medical records and how this access is managed”.

DeepMind’s health operations were later subsumed into Google Health, which itself is currently being disbanded.

The NHS has also been criticised for a data-sharing agreement last year with secretive US analytics company Palantir, co founded by Peter Thiel, an early investor in DeepMind.

The company worked with the NHS on a Covid-19 “Data Store” designed to help the government and health service monitor the spread of the virus.

Privacy campaigners and human rights activists began a campaign in June against the deal.

Palantir, which is publicly listed, has worked with spy agencies, border forces and militaries.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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