The information obtained by popular DNA testing services like 23andMe could be used to create deadly bioweapons, two members of Congress warned during the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado last month.
Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), a former Army Ranger, asserted that Americans should be more cautious about handing their DNA over to private companies due to the possibility of it being used to create bioweapons. Such weapons are already under development, he said.
“One of the things we’re talking about here is that there are now weapons under development that are designed to target specific people. That’s what this is, where you can actually take someone’s DNA, take their medical profile, and you can target a biological weapon that will kill that person or take them off the battlefield or make them inoperable,” Crow said.
“You can’t have a discussion about this without talking about privacy and the protection of commercial data because expectations of privacy have degraded over the last 20 years,” he continued. “Young folks actually have very little expectation of privacy, that’s what the polling and the data show.”
“People will very rapidly spit into a cup and send it to 23andMe and get really interesting data about their background,” Crow added. “And guess what? Their DNA is now owned by a private company and it can be sold off with very little intellectual property protection or privacy protection. We don’t have legal and regulatory regimes to deal with that.”
In response to concerns over bioweapons, Crow called for “an open and public discussion” about “what does the protection of healthcare information, DNA information, and your data look like.”
He also reiterated his warning that Americans’ DNA samples are going to be “procured and collected by our adversaries” for the development of bioweapons systems.
Also at the forum was Sen. Joni Ernst (R-IA), who added that America’s adversaries could use similar bioweapons to target US food supplies.
“If we look at food security and what can our adversaries do with biological weapons that are directed at our animal agriculture, at our agricultural sector…hoof-and-mouth disease, highly pathogenic avian influenza, African swine fever,” said Ernst. “All of these things have circulated around the globe, but if targeted by an adversary, we know that it brings about food insecurity. Food insecurity drives a lot of other insecurities around the globe.”
“There are a number of ways we can look at biological weapons and the need to make sure that not only are we securing human beings, but then also the food that will sustain us,” she concluded.
Earlier this year, the NYPD was sued over a DNA database that allegedly contains the genetic materials of thousands of innocent New Yorkers, including children.