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Ex-UCLA researcher gets 4 months for snooping

April 28, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
A former UCLA Healthcare System employee who admitted reading celebrity medical records was sentenced Tuesday to four months in federal prison.Huping Zhou, 47, pleaded guilty in January to four misdemeanor counts of violating the federal privacy provision of the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act. He admitted to obtaining individual health information without a valid reason, medical or otherwise.

He is one of the first people the nation convicted of violating the privacy provisions of the HIPAA. He's the first defendant in the nation to receive a prison sentence for doing it.

Zhou is a licensed cardio thoracic surgeon in China. In 2003 he was hired as a researcher at the UCLA school of Medicine. In October 2003, he received notice that he was about to be fired. He accessed his supervisor's medical records, and those of other co-workers. In the following days, he accessed records belonging to various celebrities. Investigators say he checked out patient records 323 times during a three-week period.

In his plea agreement, Zhou admitted he read private patient medical and health information, although he had no legitimate reasons to do so. There is no evidence that he improperly used or tried to sell any of the information that he accessed illegally.

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