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Use of online tracking technologies by HIPAA covered entities and business associates

Press releases may be edited for formatting or style | March 21, 2024
The BAA must specify the vendor’s permitted and required uses and disclosures of PHI and provide that the vendor will safeguard the PHI and report any security incidents, including breaches of unsecured PHI, to the regulated entity, among other requirements.38
If the chosen tracking technology vendor will not provide written satisfactory assurances in the form of a BAA that it will appropriately safeguard PHI, then the regulated entity can choose to establish a BAA with another vendor, for example a Customer Data Platform39 vendor, that will enter into a BAA with the regulated entity to de-identify online tracking information that includes PHI and then subsequently disclose only de-identified information to tracking technology vendors that are unwilling to enter into a BAA with a regulated entity.
If a regulated entity does not want to create a business associate relationship with a vendor that meets the definition of business associate, it cannot disclose PHI to such a vendor without individuals’ authorizations.
Addressing the use of tracking technologies in the regulated entity’s Risk Analysis and Risk Management processes,40 as well as implementing other administrative, physical, and technical safeguards in accordance with the Security Rule (e.g., encrypting ePHI that is transmitted to the tracking technology vendor;41 enabling and using appropriate authentication, access, encryption, and audit controls when accessing ePHI maintained in the tracking technology vendor's infrastructure)42 to protect the ePHI.
Providing breach notification43 to affected individuals, the Secretary, and the media (when applicable) of an impermissible disclosure of PHI to a tracking technology vendor that compromises the security or privacy of PHI when there is no Privacy Rule requirement or permission to disclose PHI and there is no BAA with the vendor. In such instances, there is a presumption that there has been a breach of unsecured PHI unless the regulated entity can demonstrate that there is a low probability that the PHI has been compromised.44
OCR’s Enforcement Priorities

Compliance with the Security Rule helps lower the risk of unauthorized access to ePHI collected through a regulated entity’s website or mobile app that could lead to harm to individuals. Therefore, OCR is prioritizing compliance with the HIPAA Security Rule in investigations into the use of online tracking technologies. OCR’s principal interest in this area is ensuring that regulated entities have identified, assessed, and mitigated the risks to ePHI when using online tracking technologies and have implemented the Security Rule requirements to ensure the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of ePHI. OCR investigations are fact-specific and may involve the review of technical information regarding a regulated entity’s use of any tracking technologies. OCR considers all of the available evidence in determining compliance and remedies for potential noncompliance.

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