DNA records pose new privacy risks
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An article in the Boston Globe highlights the ease with which DNA records can be re-identified. According to the article, “Scientists at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research showed how easily this sensitive health information could be revealed and possibly fall into the wrong hands. Identifying the supposedly anonymous research participants did not require fancy tools or expensive equipment: It took a single researcher with an Internet connection about three to seven hours per person.” Even truly anonymous data was not entirely safe from being re-identified. Yaniv Erlich”…decided to extend the technique to see if it would work with truly anonymous data. He began with 10 unidentified men whose DNA sequences had been analyzed and posted online as part of the federally funded 1,000 Genomes Project. The men were also part of a separate scientific study in which their family members had provided genetic samples. The samples and the donors’ relationships to one another were listed on a website and publicly available from a tissue repository.”
These findings are incredibly relevant because it is highly possible that “something a single researcher did in three to seven hours could easily be automated and used by companies or insurers to make predictions about a person’s risk for disease. Although the federal Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act protects DNA from being used by health insurers and employers to discriminate against people”.