A third party audit of a controversial patient data-sharing arrangement between a London NHS Trust and Google DeepMind appears to have skirted over the core issues that generated the controversy in the first place. The audit ( full report here ) — conducted by law firm Linklaters — of the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust’s acute kidney injury detection app system, Streams, which was co-developed with Google-DeepMind (using an existing NHS algorithm for early detection of the condition), does not examine the problematic 2015 information-sharing agreement inked between the pair which allowed data to start flowing. “This Report contains an assessment of the data protection and confidentiality issues associated with the data protection arrangements between the Royal Free and DeepMind . It is limited to the current use of Streams, and any further development, functional testing or clinical testing, that is either planned or in progress. It is not a historical review,” writes Linklaters, adding that: “It includes consideration as to whether the transparency, fair processing, proportionality and information sharing concerns outlined in the Undertakings are being met.” Yet it was the original 2015 contract that triggered the controversy, after it was obtained and published by New Scientist, with the wide-ranging document r aising questions over the broad scope of the data transfer ; the legal bases for patients information to be shared; and leading to questions over whether regulatory processes intended to safeguard patients and patient data had been sidelined by the two main parties involved in the project. In November 2016 the pair scrapped and replaced the initial five-year contract with a different one — which put in place additional information governance steps. They also went on to roll out the Streams app for use on patients in multiple NHS hospitals — despite the UK’s data protection regulator, the ICO, having instigated an investigation into the original data-sharing arrangement. And just over a year ago the ICO concluded that the Royal Free NHS Foundation Trust had failed to comply with Data Protection Law in its dealings with Google’s DeepMind. The audit of the Streams project was a requirement of the ICO. Though, notably, the regulator has not endorsed Linklaters report. On the contrary, it warns that it’s seeking legal advice and could take further action. In a statement on its website, the ICO’s deputy commissioner for policy, Steve Wood, writes: “We cannot endorse a report from a third party audit but we have provided feedback to the Royal Free. We also reserve our position in relation to their position on medical confidentiality and the equitable duty of confidence. We are seeking legal advice on this issue and may require further action.” In a section of the report listing exclusions, Linklaters confirms the audit does not consider: “The data protection and confidentiality issues associated with the processing of personal data about the clinicians at the Royal Free using the Streams App.” So essentially the core controversy, related to the legal basis for the Royal Free to pass personally identifiable information on 1.6M patients to DeepMind when the app was being developed, and without people’s knowledge or consent, is going unaddressed here.
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