Senate committee to probe how personal Medicare details appeared on dark web

Committee is to report by October 16 on how Medicare details appeared on the dark web.

The Australian Senate Finance and Public Administration References Committee will conduct an inquiry into how it was that some personal Medicare information became available for purchase on the dark web.

Under the title of "Circumstances in which Australians' personal Medicare information has been compromised and made available for sale illegally on the 'dark web'", the terms of reference for the inquiry are to look into "any failures in security and data protection which allowed this breach to occur".

The inquiry will also examine whether there are any systemic issues in the Health Professional Online Services (HPOS) system, the implications for the My Health Record system, and the practices and proceedings surrounding the handling of Medicare information.

The probe comes in response to reporting in July that found Medicare card details were being sold online.

Submissions are currently being accepted for the inquiry until August 31, with the committee due to report by October 16.

An investigation by The Guardian revealed a darknet trader was selling Medicare card details for a cost of 0.0089 bitcoin, just shy of AU$30 at the time.

The HPOS system is also being investigated by a panel made up of professor Peter Shergold, president of the Australian Medical Association Dr Michael Gannon, and president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Dr Bastian Seidel. This panel is due to report by September 30.

HPOS is currently used 45,000 times daily, and allows medical practitioners and health providers to look up Medicare details when a person does not have a Medicare card on them.

"The system has had, and continues to have, the strong support of the AMA [Australian Medical Association] and GPs due to its convenience and ability to provide immediate patient care," the government said in July. "It provides an alternative avenue to the existing telephone network for a health professional to identify a patient's eligibility for Medicare benefits."

HPOS has not been significantly changed since its introduction eight years ago, the government said previously.

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