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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back for Genetic Privacy

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May 1, 2008

Yesterday, the House passed H.R. 493, the Genetic Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), and the bill is now headed to President Bush for his signature.

This is a victory for all Americans who value their genetic privacy: GINA prevents employers and health insurance companies from discriminating against applicants based on their genetic code, which, thanks to modern science, reveals a lot about your body’s predisposition towards illness and disease.

Today Noam Biale, Advocacy Coordinator for the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project, blogged in DailyKos about how GINA’s passage is a step in the right direction for privacy rights, but another bill, the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005, threatens our privacy in different, and we daresay greater, ways. This bill, already signed by the President, is in its comment period right now, and if you’re one of the many American concerned about how your DNA might be profiled and warehoused in a federal database, you’ll want to read Noam’s blog:

[The act] it provides the federal government with sweeping new powers to collect and permanently retain DNA samples from anyone arrested for any crime. This could ultimately include individuals arrested for the most minor of crimes, such as peaceful protesters demonstrating on federal property, such as the National Mall or a government building.

Second, the act allows the government to collect and permanently retain DNA from any non-US person merely detained under federal authorities. “Detained” is not defined. Forget the formality of an arrest – if you are a visitor to our country you can now be compelled to give your DNA while waiting in passport control at JFK, or anytime you are pulled aside at the airport by a Transportation Security Administration agent. Thanks for visiting the United States; we’ll keep that DNA sample, thank you.

We urge you to make your thoughts known about this act’s sweeping privacy violations. You can give your comments on the website.

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