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Potential Dangers of Medical Monitors

Michael Dean Thompson

Modern medical science has delivered some remarkable lifesaving technologies. Included in the list of modern marvels are pacemakers equipped with telemetry systems that permit remote monitoring but also remote modification of their operating parameters. With such a pacemaker, a technician can monitor how the patient’s heart responds to their daily routine and modify the settings as needed. Similar technologies exist for those who no longer produce their own insulin. Nevertheless, significant personal habits can be inferred from both what a person’s body finds to be normal and how often it deviates from those norms.

We live in a society that collects large volumes of information about its individual members. Not all of that collected data serves an obvious purpose. For example, why does a car manufacturer track GPS coordinates with each “event,” such as a door opening, a gear shift, and a press of the brake? Does a game downloaded onto a cellphone really need to track the user’s location and search history? All that tracked information comes at a price to civil liberties. In essence, anything in the possession of corporate servers is likely accessible to the government. Many corporations sell their users’ raw data on an open market to data brokers. Some of these massive corporations were once known for credit-related data collection and have expanded their reach to acquiring click-through and location histories and more. Those corporations then sell that data to fusion centers and High-Density Drug Trafficking Area centers for police analysis, which by definition surveils innocent Americans with an assumption of guilt.

Given corporate complacency in government overreach and the inherently private nature of medical information, these new marvels must be clearly vetted for the kinds of data collected and under what conditions it is shared. While it may seem unlikely, a subdermal Bluetooth connector for an implantable cardioverter defibrillator would collect GPS locations, it is not impossible. It is, therefore, not unimaginable that a detective who discovers a suspect has had such a device implanted would decide to subpoena biometric indicators, such as heart rate and location information around the time of an incident.

Meanwhile, electronic monitors placed on parolees and immigrants alike are already expanding into biometric observations like voice and pulse. In December of 2023, the House passed the Support for Patients and Communities Reauthorization Act that allows for “a study on the effects of remote monitoring on individuals who are prescribed opioids.” Jeffrey A. Singer and Patrick G. Ellington of the Cato Institute warned on, “With such data in hand, misinformed anti-opiod crusaders in Congress will then take the next ‘logical’ step legislation requiring all patients prescribed for any reason to be remotely monitored (another example of ‘cops practicing medicine’).” And, who knows, once that technology is available, it will become yet another feature for electronic monitoring in general.   





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