[PRESS RELEASE] Google DeepMind deal with the Royal Free Hospital broke the law

The Information Commissioner’s Office has today ruled that the deals which gave Google DeepMind copies of 1.6 million patients’ hospital records are unlawful:


The ICO’s ruling determines that the deals breached four of the Data Protection principles:


medConfidential first complained to the National Data Guardian and ICO in June 2016. [1]

In February 2017, the National Data Guardian said that copying of patients’ data to develop the Streams app was on an “inappropriate legal basis”:


Google DeepMind – the AI company developing the app – has given various contradictory quotes about its intent over time, repeatedly asserting that what it was doing was lawful. [2]

Apparently entirely coincidentally, the “Independent Reviewers” of Google DeepMind Health have a report due out, via the Science Media Centre at 00:01 this Wednesday. The timing may be a coincidence – just as it was apparently a complete coincidence that the Royal Free released a press release about how wonderful the project was, without mentioning the word Google once, 72 hours after receiving the letter from the National Data Guardian saying the data use was unlawful. [3]

On seeing the ICO’s ruling, Phil Booth, coordinator of medConfidential said:

“We look forward to Google DeepMind’s Independent Reviewers’ report on Wednesday.”

For further information or for immediate or future interview, please contact Phil Booth, coordinator of medConfidential, on 07974 230 839 or coordinator@medconfidential.org

Notes to editors

1) Details of medConfidential’s complaint are available here:

a) Timeline of events, as of 31/5/16: https://medconfidential.org/wp-content/uploads/

b) Complaint to Regulators: https://medconfidential.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/

c) Shortly after submission, the MHRA found that the project should have been registered with them (and wasn’t): https://techcrunch.com/2016/07/20/

2) This complaint has now been vindicated by the investigation, despite an extremely strong PR response from Google. Contemporary quotes from project advocates, which now ring hollow, include: [all emphasis added]

a) Mustafa Suleyman, Co-Founder at DeepMind, has said:

i) “As Googlers, we have the very best privacy and secure infrastructure for managing the most sensitive data in the world. That’s something we’re able to draw upon as we’re such a core part of Google.” [Guardian, 6/5/16]

ii) “We have, and will always, hold ourselves to the highest possible standards of patient data protection.” [Daily Mail, 4/5/16]

iii) How this came about all started with Dr Chris Laing, of the Royal Free Hospital: “We went for coffee and ended up chatting for four hours.” [BBC News Online, 19/7/16]

iv) More recently, in an interview with Mr Suleyman published on 20/3/17: “When pushed on how the public would be assured that its sensitive data was safe, Suleyman replied, “first there is the law”.” [Digital Health, 20/3/17]

b) George Freeman MP, at the time a Minister in the Department of Health: “NHS patients need to know their data will be secure and not be sold or used inappropriately, which is why we have introduced tough new measures to ensure patient confidentiality.” [Daily Mail, 4/5/16]

c) Professor Hugh Montgomery, (consultant for Google’s DeepMind project) said, on Radio 4’s PM programme on 4 May 2016:

i) “So this is standard business as usual. In this case, it was a standard information data sharing agreement with another supplier, which meets all of those levels of governance. In fact, the agreement there, or the standards of management of those data, meets the very very highest levels. It meets something called HSCIC level 3, which most hospitals trusts don’t even reach.” [Recording of audio available, see link below]

ii) “So firstly, this isn’t research. Research is governed by an entirely separate process that would require anonymisation of data and all sorts. This is data processing.”

iii) “It’s fair to say again that not only is this data at the very highest standards, and beats every standard, and more in the United Kingdom. But the data is encrypted end-to-end, and they have to, like everyone else in the health service, stick to the law.”

iv) Recording of audio available at: https://www.dropbox.com/s/cfimojgec24rlrj/

d) Will Cavendish, now Strategy Lead for DeepMind Applied, formerly Informatics Accountable Officer at the Department of Health, said (when IAO):

…“The vital importance of trust, security, and cyber security.” … “To be honest, it used to be that not a week goes by, now it’s not a day goes by, without stories of hacking, data leaks, inadvertent data sharing. This absolutely erodes the trust that underpins the work that we do.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Ej3PRF1jUw&t=2h15m5s

e) Dr Julian Huppert, Chair and “on behalf of the Panel of Independent Reviewers for Google DeepMind Health” said in an e-mail to medConfidential on 6/7/16:

i) “one of our roles is to look in detail at how DeepMind Health uses patient data, and to confirm that it complies with the highest ethical and regulatory standards.”

ii) “We believe from what we have seen so far that DeepMind has a clear commitment to the Caldicott Principles, and that they have to date been honest in their public and private comments. We also believe they are willing to work constructively with regulators, and remain within the law.

3) https://www.royalfree.nhs.uk/news-media/news/new-app-helping-to-improve-patient-care/