Big Data Proxies and Health Privacy Exceptionalism

45 Pages Posted: 3 Sep 2013 Last revised: 6 Aug 2014

See all articles by Nicolas Terry

Nicolas Terry

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Date Written: September 3, 2013


This article argues that, while “small data” rules protect conventional health care data (doing so exceptionally, if not exceptionally well), big data facilitates the creation of health data proxies that are relatively unprotected. As a result, the carefully constructed, appropriate, and necessary model of health data privacy will be eroded. Proxy data created outside the traditional space protected by extant health privacy models will end exceptionalism, reducing data protection to the very low levels applied to most other types of data. The article examines big data and its relationship with health care, including the data pools in play, and pays particular attention to three types of big data that lead to health proxies: “laundered” HIPAA data, patient-curated data, and medically-inflected data. It then reexamines health privacy exceptionalism across legislative and regulatory domains seeking to understand its level of “stickiness” when faced with big data. Finally the article examines how health privacy exceptionalism maps to the currently accepted rationales for health privacy and discusses the relative strengths of upstream and downstream data models in curbing what is viewed as big data’s assault of health privacy.

Suggested Citation

Terry, Nicolas P., Big Data Proxies and Health Privacy Exceptionalism (September 3, 2013). Nicolas Terry, Big Data Proxies and Health Privacy Exceptionalism” 24 Health Matrix 65-108 (2014), Available at SSRN: or

Nicolas P. Terry (Contact Author)

Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law ( email )

530 W. New York St
Indianapolis, IN 46202
United States

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