Mad in America: “Confidential” 988 Conversation Records Shared with Corporations 

June 8, 2024

Contradictory claims were common. For example, Vibrant promoted 988Lifeline as “a leader in… mental health crisis care” offering “confidential” conversations with trained counselors. However, Vibrant’s less prominent Terms of Service—copied by many 988 call centers—emphasized in large capital letters that talking to a 988 counselor “DOES NOT CONSTITUTE” either “MENTAL HEALTH CARE” or “CONFIDENTIAL” communication. 

 Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) counsel Chris Frascella called these latter claims a “red flag” that Vibrant wants to avoid HIPAA’s confidentiality requirements for mental health care records. “The fact that they’re saying it suggests that’s what they’re trying to do,” said Frascella. 

… There would seem to be a solution: A brief, straightforward, highly visible privacy policy covering all 988 call centers that actually does what 988Lifeline advertises it does—protect the absolute confidentiality of all callers. Routinely delete recorded conversations within a very limited time. And implement a process for gathering clear, informed consent from both callers and call-attendants for their conversations to be shared for any research projects. 

EPIC’s Frascella believes that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) could have cause to weigh in. “If you don’t say something in a privacy policy that you should say, then that is an unfair, deceptive act or practice,” he said. “It’s possible that the FTC might have authority to go after some of these [988] service providers.” 

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