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Photo: Axios

Congress is considering legislation that would make data gathered from people's smart gadgets, such as watches, be treated as private health information, yet still be used for medical research, Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA) told Axios on Friday in a virtual event.

Why it matters: Data from smart devices can be instrumental in achieving medical advances but also pose privacy concerns. Cassidy noted that health insurers could use unregulated information from such gadgets to deny coverage to a person whose data indicates they may have a medical condition.

What they're saying: Cassidy said data gathered about people's internet searches, or even the number of bathroom trips they take during the night, could be used to infer a medical condition.

  • "An insurance company would say, 'That's expensive. We're going to have to pay for medications, or surgery, or something. We're not sure we want to insure that person,'" he explained.
  • "We have legislation that would require the information gathered from smartwatches to be treated as if it were protected health information. Certainly not to be used without your permission on anything that would otherwise underwrite your eligibility" for a product.
  • "There is a tension not just between somebody's private profit at the expense of my privacy, but the tension between medical advances in which my privacy needs to be guarded. But we need the use of this aggregate big data in order to achieve the medical advances."

What to watch: Cassidy proposed that a way to balance these concerns could be the creation of a "data lake," which would allow large amounts of data to be aggregated for research purposes while keeping people's individual identities private.

  • "It's anonymized, you can extract a data set from the lake, but it cannot be re-identified. In that case, we resolve the tension," he said.

Watch the event.

Go deeper

28 U.S. citizens depart Afghanistan on Qatar Airways flight

Passengers board a Qatar Airways aircraft bound to Qatar at the airport in Kabul on September 10, 2021. Photo: Aamir Qureshi/AFP via Getty Images

The State Department on Saturday confirmed that a Qatar Airways charter flight left Kabul on Friday with 28 U.S. citizens and seven lawful permanent residents on board.

The big picture: Friday's flight is the third such airlift by Qatar Airways since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, AP reports.

Updated 23 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Smaller than expected "Justice for J6" rally met with large police presence

Police officers watch as demonstrators gather for the "Justice for J6" rally in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 18, 2021. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images

A few hundred demonstrators were met by a heavy law enforcement presence on Saturday at the "Justice for J6" rally outside the fenced-off U.S. Capitol, AP reports.

The latest: About 400 to 450 people were inside the protest area, excluding law enforcement, U.S. Capitol Police said.

DHS to increase deportation flights to Haiti from Del Rio

Migrants walk across the Rio Grande River carrying supplies back to a makeshift encampment under the international bridge between Del Rio, Texas, and Acuña, Mexico. Officials are struggling to provide food, water, shelter and sanitation, forcing migrants to cross the Rio Grande several times per day for basic necessities. Photo: Jordan Vonderhaar via Getty Images

The Department of Homeland Security on Saturday announced plans to ramp up deportation flights to Haiti out of the small Texas border town Del Rio, starting as soon as Sunday.

Why it matters: Reports have emerged of more than 10,000 migrants, primarily from Haiti, crowded in a temporary camp under the international bridge in Del Rio. Hoping to find refuge in the United States, they've had to bear with filthy conditions and the scorching sun for days, per an NBC News affiliate.