Tagged With genetic privacy

If you'd like to gift your loved ones the chance of unwittingly sharing extremely sensitive personal information, then a DNA testing kit may be the perfect stocking stuffer-sized present. But if you'd rather not have your mum or dad or girlfriend send away private health information with a tube of their spittle, we'd strongly suggest something else.

You probably wouldn't hand out your social security number without having a pretty good idea of how that information was going to be used, right? That would be dumb. It's extremely sensitive information. And yet, the consumer genetic testing market is booming thanks to people readily giving up another piece of their identity: their genetic code.

You may have never wondered what's in the DNA of a football fan, but the US Baltimore Ravens team planned to find out. As part of a bizarre game-day promotion on Sunday, the Ravens partnered with consumer genetic testing company Orig3n to give away free DNA test kits to 55,000 fans as they entered the stadium. But the plan was hastily abandoned just a few hours before kick off, amid concerns about privacy and an inquiry from the federal government about whether the company's labs lacked necessary certifications.

As companies like 23andMe and Ancestry.com help make genetic testing commonplace, you would think that people would become better at ensuring protections for the privacy of that data. Instead, multiple Congressional actions in the US threaten to erode already-weak protections against genetic discrimination. But it isn't just a dystopian Gattaca future where citizens are discriminated against based on their genes that we need to be worried about -- one researcher is concerned that our inadequate genetic privacy laws will stymie science.

Nearly a decade ago, Dallas police proposed a new program designed to get sex workers off the streets. Rather than just send them to gaol, police would set up shop at truck stops, accompanied by counsellors, social workers and nurses, and give the sex workers a choice of either prison or talking to a counsellor. But the program also had a grimmer, more ethically fraught component -- collecting sex workers' DNA in hopes of identifying their bodies should they wind up dead.

In the sci-fi thriller Gattaca, Ethan Hawke struggles to compete in life and work as a biologically inferior human born without the aid of genetic selection. In Gattaca's vision of the future, selectively breeding desirable traits into humans is common. And while genetic discrimination is technically illegal, genetic profiling is still used for things like identifying the most qualified job applicants, resulting in a two-tiered society of genetic haves and have-nots.