Citizen Science: The Law and Ethics of Public Access to Medical Big Data

100 Pages Posted: 4 Sep 2014

See all articles by Sharona Hoffman

Sharona Hoffman

Case Western Reserve University School of Law

Date Written: September 2014


Patient-related medical information is becoming increasingly available on the Internet, spurred by government open data policies and private sector data sharing initiatives. Websites such as, GenBank, and PatientsLikeMe allow members of the public to access a wealth of health information. As the medical information terrain quickly changes, the legal system must not lag behind. This Article provides a base on which to build a coherent data policy. It canvasses emergent data troves and wrestles with their legal and ethical ramifications.

Publicly accessible medical data have the potential to yield numerous benefits, including scientific discoveries, cost savings, the development of patient support tools, healthcare quality improvement, greater government transparency, public education, and positive changes in healthcare policy. At the same time, the availability of electronic personal health information that can be mined by any Internet user raises concerns related to privacy, discrimination, erroneous research findings, and litigation. This Article analyzes the benefits and risks of health data sharing and proposes balanced legislative, regulatory, and policy modifications to guide data disclosure and use.

Keywords: Citizen science, big data, data sharing, medical privacy, HIPAA Privacy Rule, medical research, data de-identification, disability discrimination, data stewardship, data use agreements, data mining

JEL Classification: K23

Suggested Citation

Hoffman, Sharona, Citizen Science: The Law and Ethics of Public Access to Medical Big Data (September 2014). Berkeley Technology Law Journal, Forthcoming, Case Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2014-21, Available at SSRN:

Sharona Hoffman (Contact Author)

Case Western Reserve University School of Law ( email )

11075 East Boulevard
Cleveland, OH 44106-7148
United States
216-368-3860 (Phone)


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics