DNA Privacy – NOT

Not so long ago, people who provided DNA in the course of research studies were told that their privacy was assured. Their DNA sequences were on publicly available Web sites, yes, but they did not include names or other obvious identifiers. These were research databases, scientists said, not like the forensic DNA banks being gathered by the F.B.I. and police departments.

But geneticists nationwide have gotten a few rude awakenings, hints that research subjects in fact could sometimes be identified by their DNA alone, or even by the way their cells were using their DNA. The latest shock came in January, when a researcher at the Whitehead Institute, which is affiliated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, managed to track down five people selected at random from a database using only their DNA, ages and the states in which they lived. And he did it in just hours. He also found relatives — a total of close to 50 people.

Gina Kolata in The New York Times.

Comments (10)

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  1. Tom says:

    This is quite troublesome in terms of how far privacy concerns are coming to with today’s use of technology and science and government overreach.

  2. August says:

    This had actually already happened the DNA database,

    “The N.I.H. … quickly responded, moving all genetic data from the studies it financed behind Internet firewalls to prevent the public or anyone not authorized from using the data and, it was hoped, to protect the identities of research subjects.”

    “But another sort of genetic data — so-called RNA expression profiles that show patterns of gene activity — were still public. “

  3. Baker says:

    As long as people are informed now.

    “He believes that people who provide genetic information should be informed that a loss of privacy is likely, rather than unlikely, and agree to provide DNA with that understanding.”

    • Tom says:

      True and also perhaps knowledge of what this loss of genetic privacy may mean in real life.

  4. Howard says:

    There really is no last defense of privacy in this world anymore. DNA research just can’t have privacy for obvious reasons.

  5. Hubert says:

    Not cool. But what are the downsides of being identified by your DNA?

    • Nigel says:

      Well if you are a criminal, you can be caught for a crime you committed. and a 1984 type of situation is closer to happening.

  6. Studebaker says:

    I wonder how there was enough identifiable information to track someone down?

  7. Joe Barnett says:

    Anonymity is a related, but different, concept than privacy; but as the cost of information falls, the price of both privacy and anonymity rises.

  8. Jeff says:

    I see no downfalls from this discovery. In fact, I think this might be one of the most valuable scientific discovery to criminal forensics in history.