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Federal appeals court upholds HIPAA jail sentence for "snooping".

In another reminder that ignorance of the law is no excuse, a federal appeals court in California has upheld a criminal conviction under HIPAA for a terminated hospital employee's accessing the medical records of patients, including celebrities.

The May 10 decision affirmed fines and a jail sentence handed down to Huping Zhou, a former research assistant at the UCLA Health System. After the hospital informed Zhou in 2003 that he would be dismissed for performance reasons, Zhou accessed at least 323 patient records--including those of actors Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tom Hanks, as well as his boss--over a three-week period.

The U.S. Attorney brought criminal charges for a misdemeanor violation of HIPAA's prohibition of "knowingly" obtaining individually identifiable health information in violation of HIPAA. Zhou claimed that he did not know it was illegal to obtain the health information and, therefore, did not act "knowingly." The trial court rejected that defense, and sentenced Zhou to four months in prison, a $2,000 fine, and a $100 special assessment.

The Ninth Circuit appeals court upheld the conviction and sentence, finding that "knowingly" pertained only to the act of obtaining the protected health information - not whether he knew it was illegal to do so. Zhou was the first defendant in the United States to receive a prison sentence for a HIPAA privacy violation merely for snooping. There was no evidence that he used the patient records for personal gain.

by AMT Legal Counsel Michael N. McCarty Brickfield, Burchette, Ritts & Stone, P.C.
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Title Annotation:government news
Author:McCarty, Michael N.
Publication:AMT Events
Date:Jun 1, 2012
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