More unconstrained surveillance:
Lawmakers noted the pharmacies’ policies for releasing medical records in a letter dated Tuesday to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra. The letter—signed by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Rep. Sara Jacobs (D-Calif.)—said their investigation pulled information from briefings with eight big prescription drug suppliers.
They include the seven largest pharmacy chains in the country: CVS Health, Walgreens Boots Alliance, Cigna, Optum Rx, Walmart Stores, Inc., The Kroger Company, and Rite Aid Corporation. The lawmakers also spoke with Amazon Pharmacy.
All eight of the pharmacies said they do not require law enforcement to have a warrant prior to sharing private and sensitive medical records, which can include the prescription drugs a person used or uses and their medical conditions. Instead, all the pharmacies hand over such information with nothing more than a subpoena, which can be issued by government agencies and does not require review or approval by a judge.
Three pharmacies—CVS Health, The Kroger Company, and Rite Aid Corporation—told lawmakers they didn’t even require their pharmacy staff to consult legal professionals before responding to law enforcement requests at pharmacy counters. According to the lawmakers, CVS, Kroger, and Rite Aid said that “their pharmacy staff face extreme pressure to immediately respond to law enforcement demands and, as such, the companies instruct their staff to process those requests in store.”
The rest of the pharmacies—Amazon, Cigna, Optum Rx, Walmart, and Walgreens Boots Alliance—at least require that law enforcement requests be reviewed by legal professionals before pharmacists respond. But, only Amazon said it had a policy of notifying customers of law enforcement demands for pharmacy records unless there were legal prohibitions to doing so, such as a gag order.