The Association of Health Care Journalists and six other journalism organizations on Thursday formally protested the Obama administration’s new restrictions on access to the republished Public Use File of the National Practitioner Data Bank.
In a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the groups said that the new restrictions “are ill-advised, unenforceable and probably unconstitutional. Restricting how reporters use public data is an attempt at prior restraint.”
The Health Resources and Services Administration removed the Public Use File of the data bank from its website in September after a complaint from a doctor who complained information on him was used inappropriately. The agency republished the data on Wednesday but put in place restrictions on how the data could be used.
Among the restrictions is a provision that bars users from matching data in the Public Use File with other data sources to identify physicians. If journalists or others are found to have violated the provision, they could be required to return the data and be barred from receiving it in the future.
An excerpt from the letter:
This puts journalists in an untenable position. How can reporters who use the file prove that their identification of a troubled doctor was independent of the Public Use File? If reporters identify doctors in their stories and also have had access to the file, would HRSA ask to see their notes, talk to their sources, confirm that their facts came from other records and not the data bank?
In addition to AHCJ, the letter is signed by the Investigative Reporters and Editors, the Society of Professional Journalists, the National Association of Science Writers, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the National Freedom of Information Coalition and the National Conference of Editorial Writers.
The editorial writers group has recently joined the coalition of media organizations seeking a return of the Public Use File as it was available before September – without restrictions.