Crossposted from Reclaim UC
We’ve all seen the video. On November 9, UCPD and Alameda County Sheriffs used batons to beat up and arrest students and faculty who were protesting on Sproul Plaza as part of Occupy Cal. In what has become one of the more infamous examples of violence, one cop grabbed English professor Celeste Langan by the hair and threw her to the ground, where she was arrested. But Langan’s were not the most serious injuries — as a result of the attacks, demonstrators suffered everything from nerve damage to broken ribs.
In the immediate aftermath of the November 9th protests, the UCPD solicited — and received — the medical records of protesters who sustained injuries at the hands of the police. These records were released by the UC Berkeley Tang Center and local hospitals without the knowledge or consent of the patients; they were then used to identify protesters. The fact that medical records can be turned over to the UCPD in order to incriminate victims of police violence raises serious questions about the ethics of medical care on the UC-Berkeley campus. As the many videos taken on November 9th show, students and faculty were beaten simply because they were there. When evidence of physical harm at the hands of the police is immediately read as culpability, our university has effectively criminalized protest. By funneling confidential records to the UCPD and outside bodies, our medical system corroborated this view. What university policies allowed such breaches of confidentiality to happen?
Talk about the administration’s favorite bureaucratic expression: “health and safety.” We already knew that UCPD works closely with other campus institutions, such as the Office of Student Conduct, and also collaborates, as we’ve seen from the recently filed criminal charges against November 9 protesters, with the Alameda County District Attorney. But now we know they have a working relationship with University Health Services. And this is not necessarily the result of university policy. According to the ACLU, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), which you would assume would protect the privacy of your medical records, in fact does no such thing:
Q: Can the police get my medical information without a warrant?
A: Yes. The HIPAA rules provide a wide variety of circumstances under which medical information can be disclosed for law enforcement-related purposes without explicitly requiring a warrant. These circumstances include (1) law enforcement requests for information to identify or locate a suspect, fugitive, witness, or missing person (2) instances where there has been a crime committed on the premises of the covered entity, and (3) in a medical emergency in connection with a crime.
In other words, law enforcement is entitled to your records simply by asserting that you are a suspect or the victim of a crime.
This is a very important point, something that anyone involved in any kind of demonstration should keep in mind. By seeking out medical attention, we may be putting ourselves at risk. This is not to say that one should never go to a clinic or a hospital. Not by any means. But it’s important to understand the possible consequences. At the same time, this knowledge underscores the importance of street medics, of learning how to heal ourselves and our comrades as best we can.
[Update 1, 8:09pm 3/13]: The ACLU of Northern California has denounced the charges against the November 9 protesters, and further confirms the collusion between UCPD and the UCB health services: “We also know that at least 2 of the students sought medical treatment at a University health facility, which then handed information about them to the alleged assailant, UCPD.”
[Update 2, 9:10am 3/16]: And now the Chronicle has followed up: “Tang gave police more than a dozen reports of injuries from Nov. 9, police said. It’s what happened afterward that compounded the mistrust, students say. Several of the injured . . . were contacted by police and asked to answer questions about what had happened. Two also received letters from the District Attorney’s office that they were being charged with ‘resisting’ and ‘obstructing.’” The Daily Cal has an article too that quotes this post.