IBM, the world’s largest computer maker, pledged Monday not to use genetic data to screen employees and applicants in what it said was the first such move by a major corporation to safeguard a new category of privacy.
International Business Machines Corp. (Research) also said it would refrain from using the data in determining eligibility for health care or benefits plans.
The pledge comes as Congress debates a proposed privacy bill that would bar health insurers and employers from discriminating against people with a genetic predisposition to disease.
Four years ago, railroad conglomerate 3Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corp. (Research) agreed to abstain from submitting its employees to genetic testing after it was sued by federal regulators.
“Genetic information comes pretty close to the essence of who you are, it’s something you can’t change,” IBM’s chief privacy officer, Harriet Pearson, told Reuters.
“It has nothing to do with your employment, how good your contributions are, how good of a team member you are, so making a policy statement in this case is the right thing to do,” she said.
IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., employs more than 300,000 people worldwide.
The Genetic Alliance, a Washington-based patients advocacy group, called IBM’s policy “remarkable” and predicted it would spur other U.S. corporations to follow suit.
IBM shares rose 75 cents, or nearly 1 percent, to $81.25 trading Monday after Citigroup upgraded its rating on the company to “buy” from “hold.” IBM’s share price has dropped more than 17 percent this year.