Our Opinion: Bridging the gap between digital data and privacy

A growing concern linked to rapid advances in technology is a disconnect between information and privacy.

For example, the convenience of online financial transactions — buying, selling, banking — raises security concerns about credit card, bank account and Social Security numbers.

Similar concerns have stalled a proposed prescription drug database in Missouri, the lone holdout among the 50 states.

Gil Kerlikowske, the nation’s drug czar, recently visited our state to push the proposal.

Prescription drug abuse has been characterized as “epidemic” by Kerlikowske, whose official title is director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

In support, he points out nearly 21,000 deaths nationwide were attributed to prescription drug overdoses in 2009, the most recent available data.

And those numbers, he adds, “are greater than heroin and cocaine overdose deaths combined.”

Legislation for Missouri ended in a stalemate with two Republican senators on opposite poles.

Sen. Kevin Engler of Fenton pushed the bill, opposed primarily by Sen. Bob Schaaf of St. Joseph.

Schaaf’s concern is prescription drug databases contain sensitive, personal information government officials don’t need to know. “All they have to do is punch in your name and address and they can find out every controlled substance you’ve been prescribed.”

Prescription drug abuse is a real, and deadly, problem.

Similarly, protecting personal privacy is a valid concern.

But the dilemma is hardly new.

Much data — health records, personal communications and the aforementioned financial transactions — are stored and retrieved digitally, with few breaches of security.

Surely, the expertise is available to create a prescription drug database that produces personal peace of mind.

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