DNA testing companies launch new privacy coalition – June 25, 2019

I saw this yesterday, but I was in the middle of other things at the time and decided to post it today – DNA testing companies launch new privacy coalition: https://thehill.com/regulation/lobbying/450124-dna-testing-companies-launch-new-privacy-coalition.

Genetic testing companies are forming a new coalition on best practices for handling DNA information and to promote the industry in Washington as lawmakers put more scrutiny on their privacy practices.

Three companies — Ancestry, 23andMe and Helix, which provide DNA testing and analysis — formed the Coalition for Genetic Data Protection, first reported by The Hill.



As of January, more than 26 million consumers have added their DNA to the four leading commercial ancestry and health databases, believed to be Ancestry, 23andMe, MyHeritage and Family Tree DNA, according to MIT Technology Review.


Following the controversy, the largest ancestry companies said they wouldn’t allow police to access their databases without a warrant. But privacy advocates said more safeguards were needed.

“Even if companies take these much-needed steps, the onus remains on government actors to protect our rights,” wrote Vera Eidelman, an attorney on the American Civil Liberties Union’s Speech, Privacy and Technology Project. “We shouldn’t have to rely on changeable company policies to protect such private information.”

“The stories that are out there tend to focus on bad actors or methods that law enforcement use,” Haro told The Hill. “These companies do not work hand and hand with law enforcement.”


In July 2018, Ancestry, 23andMe and Helix teamed up with the Future of Privacy Forum to publish a white paper on Privacy Best Practices for Consumer Genetic Testing Services.

“If Congress is going to codify anything around genetic data, this is what we want them to look to,” Haro said. “In order to be a member of this coalition, your company has to adopt and adhere to these best practices. That is part of the bylaws.”



“We don’t want to impede research, but we also don’t want to empower those looking to make a fast buck or an unfair judgment off your genetic information. We can find the right balance here, and we must,” Schumer said at the time.

But Congress hasn’t officially acted on genetic testing issues since passing the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which prevents a person from being discriminated against by an employer or insurer over their genetic information.


John Verdi, the vice president of policy at the Future of Privacy Forum, said the think tank would like to see widespread adoption of the white paper’s practices within the industry.


Lawmakers are working on drafting a privacy bill in Congress as states begin to pass their own tough laws. Ancestry, which is based in California, is preparing to comply with that state’s new privacy law.

“When it comes to the federal government, we would like to see a harmonized approach and the purpose of the coalition is to make sure that as that harmonized approach is attempted,” Heath said, “that genetic data is understood and that our industry is understood and that we don’t get swept in with other industries or other context in a way that would negatively impact our business.”

The companies have also boosted their lobbying presence.

Ancestry spent $50,000 on lobbying so far in 2019, all with Monument Advocacy.

23andMe has spent $70,000 on lobbying in 2019 and has four firms on retainer. The company was founded 12 years ago and is focused on genetic health information.



Helix, which was founded four years ago, spent $120,000 on lobbying in 2018, all to Mehlman Castagnetti. It has no firms on retainer for 2019 yet.

Elissa Levin, Helix’s senior director of clinical affairs and policy, said the company joined the coalition to help push forward unified privacy standards.

“We really want to be able to make sure that there is federal legislation that is able to provide that umbrella and that guidance so that we can all align and really set standards,” Levin said, adding that it was important legislation “doesn’t undermine real innovation and … the progress that can result from genetics and genetic research.”

The coalition could also grow.

Hibbs said 23andMe is open to other companies joining the coalition, but they would have to agree to adhere to the best practices in the white paper to join.

“We want to essentially ensure that as lawmakers go about their jobs that they understand what we do and how we do it,” Heath said, “so that the rules that apply to us are crafted not to impede innovation or the ability of the businesses to succeed.”


About Wichita Genealogist

Originally from Gulfport, Mississippi. Live in Wichita, Kansas now. I suffer Bipolar I, ultra-ultra rapid cycling, mixed episodes. Blog on a variety of topics - genealogy, DNA, mental health, among others. Let's collaborateDealspotr.com
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