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Two people complained that they were identifiable in a HSE case study on the dangers of Covid

The HSE uses a combination of different case studies in its Covid-19 examples.

Image: Shutterstock/fizkes

TWO PEOPLE COMPLAINED to the Data Protection Commission (DPC) that they were identifiable in a HSE case study about how Covid-19 spreads.

The Data Protection Commissioner Helen Dixon told TheJournal.ie that this was one of the “surprise” complaints her office received last year. 

She said the complaint arose from two people who “considered they were the subject matter of a case study that the HSE put out to inform all of us of the dangers” of Covid-19.

“They felt that they were identifiable from the case study and that it had brought danger on them and their families,” Dixon said. 

Dixon would not clarify which example this was, but said it was “the type of case study” similar to an example given by the HSE last year.

This example focused on a couple who went on a trip away. During the trip, they attended a house party, an overnight stay with family and one of them attended a dinner party. 

This incident led to 30 positive cases of Covid-19, the HSE said at the time. 

The HSE said it “cannot comment on individual cases” in response to a query from TheJournal.ie. 

“The HSE would not use one individual case as an exemplar. Case studies, such as the one referenced below [the couple], include elements of different cases to construct an example of how Covid-19 is spread and to encourage members of the public to consider and limit their social contacts.”

Helen Dixon said case studies like the one involving the couple “caught everyone’s imagination in that it appeared to be an extraordinary amount of socialising with parties and dinners and barbecues and weekends away”. 

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“The issue that arose, was that in part because the HSE didn’t want to identify any particular case study, there were elements of it that were fictional or were created from a merge of a number of studies, but because some of the core elements seemed to identify two particular individuals, it created an issue for them,” she said. 

“We were glad they raised that with us, we were able to take it up with the HSE who, of course, never intended that any true individuals would be identified and hopefully that issue has been avoided since.”

She said the HSE “acknowledged that this wasn’t their intention”. 

“If there had been unintended consequences, they [the HSE] would absolutely endeavor to ensure that this didn’t arise in any future case studies they produce because of course the case studies are useful for all of us in bringing home the messages.”

She said the people who raised their concerns were the DPC were “extremely reasonable” and were satisfied that the intention “was not to create this type of issue in the future”. 

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