For anyone who has taken even a cursory glance through social media, it seems that suddenly everything just might be a HIPAA violation. The satirical Twitter account “BadHippa” collects the internet’s opinions on what constitutes a HIPAA violation – everything from family members asking you about your vaccine status to hospitals sending bills to collection agencies. But, on Friday January 7, 2022, a federal judge in Washington state limited the often referenced statute by holding that animals do not have a right to privacy in veterinary records.
At issue in the case Animal Legal Defense Fund v. Olympic Game Farm, Inc. was Olympic Game Farm’s (“OGF”) attempt to seal various documents which they claimed could be “used for commercial purposes,” including photos of OGF’s operation and veterinary records. The court ruled that the conditions at OGF were a direct issue in the suit and there was no countervailing interest to warrant sealing. Specifically, the court stated that there is “no veterinarian privilege, no animal equivalent of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, and no case law suggesting that humans and animals are entitled to the same level of privacy.”
The district court’s ruling allows the Animal Legal Defense Fund to use the documents in question to support their claims that OGF is harming endangered species in its care and, importantly, allows me to repeatedly ask my dog “who’s a good boy???” throughout the day without concern that I violate his privacy.