The processing of health information- protecting the individual right to privacy through effective legal remedies

Björg Thorarensen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


The right to privacy generally belongs to constitutionally protected rights and is listed with fundamental human rights in international human rights instruments. Personal health information is particularly important element of private life, and health data is defined and accepted as sensitive personal data. Modern computer and information technology is capable of processing enormous amounts of data concerning health, which entails a growing risk of violations of privacy by both public authorities and private entities. This article addresses the concept of privacy, as a legal term and a human right, and judicial remedies to enforce the right before national authorities. Whereas no single comprehensive federal law exists in the US for instance, regulating the collection and use of personal data, European states have adopted an extensive regulatory framework on the issue. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg has repeatedly confirmed that information about a person’s health is an important element of one’s private life. Accordingly, processing of health information is an interference with the right to privacy, which may however be justified with a reference to public interests such as scientific research, subject to certain legal requirements. Finding a fair balance between the competing public and private interests is a complicated task. A case study will be made of Iceland, where the European treaties and regulations on protection of personal data have been implemented into domestic law. The Icelandic courts have resolved questions related to processing of health data and violations of privacy, and inter alia declared unconstitutional, legislation on the establishment of a centralised health sector database. This illustrates how legislation, accompanied with effective individual access to the courts, may offer legal reliefs to individuals claiming violation of their right to privacy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)401-413
Number of pages13
JournalHealth and Technology
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017, IUPESM and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg.

Other keywords

  • Data protection law
  • Enforcement of privacy rights
  • Health data
  • Human rights law
  • Legal remedies
  • Privacy


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