Energetic tech bro and GOP presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy once made the government an offer that, shockingly, it absolutely refused: a “universal covid patient records surveillance database,” according to a Jordan Schachtel report from June that I just stumbled across.
“Before rebranding as a warrior for free speech and a passionate crusader for privacy rights,” Schachtel wrote, “newly announced presidential contender Vivek Ramaswamy was pitching the U.S. and world governments on his efforts to install a broad, centralized database of private medical records.”
One of Ramaswamy’s subsidiary companies is a data-mining firm called Datavant. In April of 2020, Datavant proposed “the establishment of a single national and global database for all covid-related patient health records.” Yep, all of them. Get the Wuhan Bat Flu, get your records shared with Washington, Beijing, the UN, wherever.
It gets worse:
Datavant claimed the records would be anonymized through their internal systems and that the broad database would only be available to researchers and government officials. However, some weren’t buying the sales pitch, citing gross violations of medical privacy. Moreover, none of the methods to supposedly anonymize records were made open source for review.
“Trust us,” Datavant seemed to say, “your records will be totally private on all those government servers. Really.”
Did I mention that you wouldn’t be given the chance to consent or deny?
What’s heartwarming about this report is how few other companies or government agencies were willing to get on board with Datavant’s effort “to profit off of the hysteria and violate basic ethical standards,” as Schachtel put it. I should mention — and this will come as a total shock to you, I’m sure — that our National Institutes of Health, where celebrity medical spokesmodel Anthony “Doctor” Fauci made his home, was reportedly eager to get in bed with Datavant.
Ramaswamy’s firm’s effort wasn’t a total waste, however. Datavant did succeed in creating a smaller database that has been “linked to a handful of incredibly shoddy covid-19 studies.”
What irks me here more than anything is what a wasted, frivolous effort this would have been, even if Datavant could have gotten the major players on board.
I couldn’t even begin to tell you how many times my wife and I have been exposed to COVID-19. I can tell you exactly how many times, combined, the two of us showed any symptoms: Zero. And judging by how extremely infectious the disease is and how many “missing” cases there are, I can tell you one other thing with certainty: Ramaswamy’s privacy-busting database would have been woefully incomplete.
All those millions of medical records, made too public even for Washington’s taste, to create a database that wouldn’t have been very informative.
Mostly though, I think my old acquaintance Emily Zanotti best summed up my problem with Ramaswamy.
He’s the smartest *sounding* candidate. But too often, we mistake pretension for intelligence. It’s how all of us ended up with that one terrible college boyfriend who was into Criterion collection films-he-always-called-films and only ate toaster waffles with Nutella https://t.co/vXSsxssTYu
— Emily Zanotti 🦝 (@emzanotti) August 24, 2023
Business-wise, Ramaswamy’s proposal was probably very smart, indeed. If, that is, by “smart,” you mean, “Could have made him another eleventy-million dollars.” But there’s no getting around the fact that it’s dumb, inexcusably stupid, to entrust government with all that data without so much as an opt-out provision for the people whose data would have gotten passed around like a gallon jug of Carlo Rossi Hearty Burgundy at a hobo convention.
I dismissed Ramaswamy early on as a cipher, as a rich guy trying to buy his way into politics, in part, by using his money to scrub some of his history from Wikipedia:
According to the article’s version history, the editor removed lines about Ramaswamy’s receipt of a Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans in 2011. Paul Soros was the older brother of billionaire funder of leftist causes George Soros, who was the biggest individual political donor in the United States during the 2022 election cycle. Also removed from the page on February 9, 2023 was Ramaswamy’s role on the state of Ohio’s Covid-19 Response Team. The editor recorded that Ramaswamy’s Covid-era work was removed from the article by the candidate’s own explicit request, while his Soros fellowship was deemed “extraneous material” by the editor.
I’m not sure Republican primary voters would agree. I am sure that today’s news has caused me to revise my estimation of Ramaswamy from “entertainingly callow” to “dangerously callow.”
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