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Google DeepMind in deep trouble over NHS data transfer

Regulators accuse artificial intelligence branch Google DeepMind of accepting patient medical data on a flimsy legal basis from the NHS.

DeepMind is the artificial intelligence (AI) subsidiary of Google.

Thus, this London branch is also a part of the greater Alphabet Group.

DeepMind shook the web earlier this year when it defeated a human in a virtual game of Go. Incredibly, the human participant was also a master in the Chinese board game. This factor created new implications for the existence of AI.

Google DeepMind - Compelo
Shutterstock/Jinning Li

The AI department of the global Internet services company is now under fire by regulators due to its recent dealings with the NHS.

Specifically, whether it legally received third party patient data from the NHS.

The health service sent up to 1.6 million of its medical records to the DeepMind without any of the patients’ knowledge.

As such, this move caught the attention of senior data protection adviser, Dame Fiona Caldicott.

Investigation a whole new game for Google DeepMind

Additionally, Dame Caldicott makes up the National Data Guardian.  The Secretary of State for Health appointed her to this position in 2014.

Dame Caldicott questions whether the Royal Free Hospital in London was legally allowed to pass on patient data without patient knowledge.

The transfer came about while the hospital and AI branch were collaborating on an app together. Called Streams, it monitors acute kidney disease.

Thus, Dame Caldicott believes that the legal basis for passing on the patient information is severely lacking.

However, DeepMind and Royal Free London maintain that in regards to common law, patients give “implied consent” if their data is used for “direct care” efforts.

As medical director to the hospital, Professor Stephen Powis comments on the controversy:

“We have been very grateful to Dame Fiona for her support (and) advice during this process and we would absolutely welcome further guidance on this issue.”

Google DeepMind - Compelo

However, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is carrying out a full investigation into the matter.

It explains its current movements in a statement:

“We continue to work with the National Data Guardian and have been in regular contact with the Royal Free and DeepMind who have provided information about the development of the Streams app.”

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