March 29, 2006: Search giant Google has been accused of being the “biggest threat to genetic privacy” for its alleged plan to create a searchable database of genetic information.
Biopiracy refers to the “monopolisation of genetic resources” according to the show’s organisers. It is also defined as the unauthorised use of biological resources by organisations such as corporations, universities and governments.
According to the award’s Web site, Google is guilty of biopiracy because plans for a searchable database could make it easier for private genetic information to be abused. “Google, in cooperation with Craig Venter, are developing plans to make all of our genomes Googlable to facilitate the brave new world of private genetically-tailored medicines,” the site claims.
Sep 27, 2007: According to consumer watchdog Privacy International, Google conducts “comprehensive surveillance” and embodies an “entrenched hostility to privacy.” Microsoft, though a little less invasive, is still Microsoft. What do they have in common? Both want you to trust them with your DNA.
Jesse Reynolds of the Center for Genetics and Society reports on AlterNet about the companies’ investments in 23andMe, a startup in the fledgling online genomic information industry. In the future, such companies will offer to sequence your genome, interpret the information for you, and put you in touch with products and services that fit your genetic profile. There’s even a social networks angle — MySpace meets Gattaca.
October 19, 2007: The implications for medicine, and its evil twin the insurance industry, are vast. Despite the privacy issues, Venter is in favor of transparency in genomics, so that, for example, you’ll be able to “Google a date’s DNA,” as O’Reilly remarked. Scary? Sure. But “a good idea,” Venter said. “Especially if you plan to have children.”
Google-funded DNA testing to launch in Europe later …
January 22, 2008: With the demo of Web-enabled DNA testing later this week at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland, Google’s DNA Project — the basis of a unique type of social networking — will extend itself to Europe. There, one might locate Dr. Bryan Sykes, a DNA genetics researcher who once found a Florida accountant named Tom Robinson to be a descendant of Genghis Khan.
The Google project — which draws from the premise that people actually yearn to interact with their family members — has already spawned sites as GeneTree.com, Canada’s DNA Ancestry Project, and 23andMe.com, the creation of Anne Wojcicki, who is the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin.
The DNA Ancestry Project, for instance, has been behind the sale of “starter kits” at Best Buy and other stores. These kits contain equipment used to take swab samples of the inner cheek. The DNA samples can then be mailed in to the Web site for genetic analysis.
30/01/2008: Her husband is one of the world’s richest men who has built up an internet empire that delivers and classifies digital information at the click of a mouse. Now Anne Wojcicki is planning to tap into the rise of online global networking to help people make sense of their own genetic information.
“We’d like to reach 98pc of the world, that is our goal,” says Wojcicki from beside her fledgling company’s booth on the first floor of the Belvedere Hotel. “You have to have high standards to get anywhere in life, and if genealogy continues at its current rate, what we’re offering will soon become a standard part of people’s lives.”
Named after the number of chromosomes that make up each person’s genome, 23andme operates by analysing saliva samples to build up a picture of its clients’ inherited traits, ancestry and, in time, personal disease risks. Customers send in their saliva – along with a hefty cheque for $999 – and four to six weeks later receive their results online.
Feb 29, 2008: Google has financially backed a project from a Harvard University scientist to unlock the secrets of common diseases by decoding the DNA of 100,000 people.
The project will be the largest human genome sequencing project in the world, and may lead to new cures for disease.
23andMe, the startup widely known as the company whose founder is the wife of Sergey Brin, has plans to make the human genome searchable. Brin, along with Google, gave 23andMe $3.9 million as part of a series A in May of 2007. The company, cleverly… Learn More
Apr 18, 2008: Your DNA falls into the realm of “the world’s information,” and it seems that Google (GOOG), as part of its corporate mission, is making a play to organize that, too. The Internet giant received heavy press in 2007 when it invested at least $4.4 million (BusinessWeek.com, 11/29/07) in a genetic screening company, 23andMe, that was started by Anne Wojcicki, the wife of Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and her business partner.
Google’s interest in DNA doesn’t end there. It is also putting money into a second Silicon Valley DNA-screening startup, Navigenics. The company is also backed by star venture capital firm Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield & Byers. For a spit of saliva and $2,500, your genetic test results are securely delivered to your computer screen with your genetic likelihood for 18 medical conditions, from Alzheimer’s to rheumatoid arthritis to several types of cancer. Navigenics aims to boost disease prevention by providing customers reports on their DNA that they can share with their doctors. The company addresses privacy concerns by encrypting customer identities, and screens only for conditions it deems to have scientifically sound genetic studies. The company also offers genetic counseling.
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT:
White House seeks to expand DNA database
4/15/2003: DNA profiles from juvenile offenders and from adults who have been arrested but not convicted would be added to the FBI’s national DNA database under a Bush administration proposal.
Under current law, only DNA from adults convicted of crimes can be placed in the national database, which is used to compare those samples with biological evidence from the scenes of unsolved crimes. As of January, there were about 1.3 million DNA samples in the database, U.S. officials say.
Adding profiles from thousands of adult arrestees and juvenile offenders would greatly expand the DNA system’s worth by increasing the number of potential matches, administration officials say. Justice Department officials have discussed potential changes in federal DNA law with key members of Congress and are pushing for legislation this year.
“DNA is to the 21st century what fingerprinting was to the 20th,” says Deborah Daniels, assistant U.S. attorney general for justice programs. “The widespread use of DNA evidence is the future of law enforcement in this country.”
But critics say adding juvenile and arrestee profiles to the database threatens privacy by expanding the pool of samples beyond adult criminals. Although only digital DNA profiles would be linked to the FBI computer, the blood or saliva samples from which the DNA was drawn would be kept by state labs, they note.
“It’s only a matter of time before the government gets its hands on those DNA samples and starts playing around with our genetic codes,” says Barry Steinhardt, privacy specialist for the American Civil Liberties Union’s national office in New York City. “They say they don’t want to do that, but not too long ago they were saying they’d only take DNA profiles from rapists and murderers and now they want juveniles … We’re not just on a slippery slope, we’re halfway down it.”
Suspects arrested or detained by federal authorities could be forced to provide samples of their DNA that would be recorded in a central database under a provision of a Senate bill to expand government collection of personal data.
The controversial measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and is supported by the White House, but has not gone to the floor for a vote. It goes beyond current law, which allows federal authorities to collect and record samples of DNA only from those convicted of crimes. The data are stored in an FBI-maintained national registry that law enforcement officials use to aid investigations, by comparing DNA from criminals with evidence found at crime scenes.
Jul 27, 2006: Every state takes DNA samples from convicted sex offenders and at least 43 states take samples from other serious felons, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, which tracks state laws. But five states – California, Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia – now take DNA samples from some arrestees as well.
Kansas and New Mexico passed authorizing legislation this spring and will begin arrestee sampling next January.
Officers commonly take the samples by using cotton swabs to collect saliva. The samples are used to try to solve “cold cases” by comparing them to biological evidence found at crime scenes. DNA profiles, or computerized snapshots of the samples, are stored in local, state and federal databases, allowing law enforcers to compare information.
Last January, President Bush signed the DNA Fingerprinting Act, which allows authorities to collect DNA “fingerprints,” or samples, from anyone arrested on any federal charge. Federal sampling has not yet begun, said Ann Todd, a spokeswoman for the FBI laboratory in Quantico, Va., home of the national DNA database.
In every state but Louisiana, arrestee DNA sampling is limited to those arrested for felonies. The Bayou State, however, also allows sampling of those arrested for some misdemeanors, including prostitution and assault.
California, Louisiana, Kansas and New Mexico and the federal government can keep DNA records even if arrestees are cleared of all charges – a practice that has brought objections from civil libertarians.
The Justice Department is completing rules to allow the collection of DNA from most people arrested or detained by federal authorities, a vast expansion of DNA gathering that will include hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, by far the largest group affected.
The new forensic DNA sampling was authorized by Congress in a little-noticed amendment to a January 2006 renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides protections and assistance for victims of sexual crimes. The amendment permits DNA collecting from anyone under criminal arrest by federal authorities, and also from illegal immigrants detained by federal agents.
Over the last year, the Justice Department has been conducting an internal review and consulting with other agencies to prepare regulations to carry out the law.
The goal, justice officials said, is to make the practice of DNA sampling as routine as fingerprinting for anyone detained by federal agents, including illegal immigrants. Until now, federal authorities have taken DNA samples only from convicted felons.
May 2, 2008: President Bush last week signed into law a bill which will see the federal government begin to screen the DNA of all newborn babies in the U.S. within six months, a move critics have described as the first step towards the establishment of a national DNA database.
Described as a “national contingency plan” the justification for the new law S. 1858, known as The Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act of 2007, is that it represents preparation for any sort of “public health emergency.”
The bill states that the federal government should “continue to carry out, coordinate, and expand research in newborn screening” and “maintain a central clearinghouse of current information on newborn screening… ensuring that the clearinghouse is available on the Internet and is updated at least quarterly”.
Sections of the bill also make it clear that DNA may be used in genetic experiments and tests.
Read the full bill here.
The American Civil Liberties Union urges Congress to oppose an amendment sponsored by Representative Adam B. Schiff (D-CA) that is designed to test arrestees as part of an expansion of the federal DNA program. Schiff’s amendment, which recently passed the House Judiciary Committee, will provide incentives for state law enforcement officials to create a permanent DNA database of arrestees that includes people who are detained on misdemeanor charges, wrongfully arrested and others.
“Schiff’s amendment encouraging the collection of arrestees’ DNA samples would turn the presumption of innocence on its head,” said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington Legislative Office. “Anyone wrongfully arrested becomes part of a permanent criminal database. Someone arrested for misdemeanor becomes a suspect for life. Americans who have not been proven guilty under state laws go into a DNA database with criminal offenders.”
Fredrickson predicted, “With this expansion proposal, the federal DNA program will collect and retain DNA from millions of innocent people. The purpose of DNA collection will become population surveillance, not a criminal investigative tool.”
Patenting in biotechnology has been subject to increasing public scrutiny as a result of the profound changes in the way research in the life sciences has become commercialised. This has resulted in immense ethical and legal controversy.
Numerous human DNA sequence patents have been granted to date but it is questionable as to whether these achieve either the goal of stimulation of innovation for the public good and or rewarding people for useful new inventions.
Patent offices have tended to be generous in granting patents in relation to DNA sequences and many of the patents are broad in scope because a successful patent holder for a DNA sequence will in effect obtain broad protection on all uses of the DNA and often on the proteins that the DNA produces. In addition, patents have been granted when the usual criteria for inventiveness and utility have been inappropriately and weakly applied.
In awarding patents for DNA sequences, patent offices fail to take into account that DNA is a naturally occurring phenomenon and hence, scientific knowledge concerning the DNA is not eligible for patenting.
What is also not considered is that DNA sequences, unlike other patentable chemicals, carry the body’s information as to how proteins are to be constructed. It is questionable as to whether this type of information can properly be patented.