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VERIFY: Does contact tracing violate HIPAA laws?

Businesses, restaurants and apps want your information to alert someone if they've been exposed to COVID-19. But is that a violation of privacy? Our experts say no.

WASHINGTON — The VERIFY team is working to separate fact from fiction during the Covid-19 pandemic. We're still practicing social distancing, and wearing masks, and local leaders are encouraging us to sign up for contact tracing. 

Some restaurants and businesses are doing it, and you can download an app on your phone to make it even easier. But not everyone wants to share their personal information.

Question: Does contact tracing violate HIPAA laws?

Answer: No.

Sources: Roger Severino, Director of the Office for Civil Rights, part of Health and Human Services.

And attorney Iliana Peters, who specializes in data privacy and security.

"The vast majority of entities that conduct contact tracing aren't actually covered by HIPAA," Peters explained.

RELATED: 'The contact tracers are overwhelmed' | Virginia wants priority for contact tracing during COVID-19 surge

She said HIPAA applies only to entities that take health insurance or offer pay related to health insurance and the vendors that provide services to those entities (e.g. hospitals, and doctors' offices). 

Director Severino agreed and said, "HIPAA covered entities have the ability to share information with the CDC and public health authorities. And that helps with contact tracing."

And he said they can share information where there's "an imminent threat to the health and safety of somebody."

Peters explained that even if HIPAA does apply, there are exceptions.

"So if HIPAA does in fact apply, there is a permission available under the HIPAA Privacy Rule for public health activities, and contact tracing would likely fall under those permissions in the Privacy Rule."

So we can VERIFY: No, our sources said contact tracing is not in violation of HIPAA laws.

RELATED: DC is launching a new COVID-19 exposure notification app for residents. Here's how it works

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