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    Protecting the Genetic Data of Politicians

    Two researchers at Boston University School of Health, bioethicist George Annas and neurologist Robert Green, discuss “The Genetic Privacy of Presidential Candidates” in the New England Journal of Medicine. They explain that by the 2012 elections, “advances in genomics will make it more likely that DNA will be collected and analyzed to assess genetic risk information that could be used for or, more likely, against presidential candidates.”

    This isn’t some crazy conspiracy theory. In a story about how life will change for President-Elect Barack Obama once he takes office, the Mirror includes this:

    The President-elect will also have to get used to handing his glass to a Secret Service agent every time he has a drink outside the White House. The agent carries a small bag in which to pop the glass and later he destroys it.

    The idea is to ensure that no unauthorised person has access to the Presidential DNA, but it is not clear how an enemy would use it.

    But this kind of security is for the president’s genetic data, not for that of political candidates. And that is what concerns the researchers, because such data can be easily gathered. “Sufficient DNA for amplification and analysis can be obtained from loose hairs, coffee cups, discarded utensils, or even a handshake.”

    I agree that genetic data, like most data, is easy to skew or misinterpret and should be safeguarded. However, I don’t think that such protections should apply only to politicians. Some laws have been passed to protect genetic data, but more needs to be done. (Mark Rothstein had a good article in September’s Scientific American, Tougher Laws Needed to Protect Your Genetic Privacy.)

    More coverage of the researchers’ paper at the Boston Globe and UPI.

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