- Title: Britain should be concerned at Chinese gene data harvesting, lawmaker says
- Date: 22nd July 2021
- Summary: WARSAW, POLAND (FILE - MARCH 30, 2021) (REUTERS) EMILIA (SURNAME WITHHELD AT THE REQUEST OF THE INTERVIEWEE), A 32-YEAR-OLD WOMAN FROM POLAND WHO HAS TAKEN BGI'S PRENATAL TEST AND HER SON EMILIA'S PREGNANT STOMACH EMILIA HOLDING NIFTY CONSENT-REQUISITION FORM EMILIA SHOWING THE FORM TO CAMERA BELGRADE, SERBIA (FILE - MAY 12, 2020) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF LAB TECHNICIANS AT WORK AT HUO-YAN LABORATORY FOR MOLECULAR DETECTION OF INFECTIOUS AGENTS, THE FIRST LAB THAT THE BEIJING GENOMICS INSTITUTE (BGI) HAS HELPED TO BUILD IN EUROPE
- Embargoed: 5th August 2021 10:45
- Keywords: BGI Group Britain China Tom Tugendhat UK genomics prenatal test surveillance women
- Location: VARIOUS
- City: VARIOUS
- Country: United Kingdom
- Topics: Europe,Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA001EMXB22V
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text: The harvesting of data on the genomics of millions of women by a Chinese company through prenatal tests is concerning and Britain should debate how privacy can be protected from "surveillance autocracy," a senior British lawmaker told Reuters.
A Reuters review of scientific papers and company statements found that the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) Group developed the tests in collaboration with the Chinese military and is using them to collect genetic data for sweeping research on the traits of populations.
"I'm always concerned when data leaves the United Kingdom, that it should be treated with the respect and privacy that we would expect here at home, and the concern that this raises is that it may not be so," Tom Tugendhat, chair of the British parliament's Foreign Affairs Select Committee, said on Wednesday (July 21).
"The connections between Chinese genomics firms and the Chinese military do not align with what we would normally expect in the United Kingdom or indeed many other countries."
BGI says it has never shared data for national security purposes and has never been asked to.
The company said that it fully complied with European GDPR data protection rules and also had the British certification for personal information management.
"BGI's NIPT test was developed solely by BGI - not in partnership with China's military. All NIPT data collected overseas are stored in BGI's labs in Hong Kong and are destroyed after five years," it said in an email to Reuters, adding that it took data protection, privacy and ethics extremely seriously.
Tugendhat is one of nine British lawmakers who has been sanctioned by China for highlighting alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, which Beijing describes as "lies and disinformation."
He co-leads the China Research Group, a group of Conservative lawmakers which looks to rebalance the strategic relationship with China.
Tugendhat said he was concerned that genomic data could be collected for "narrow national advantage," adding that "the surveillance industry, in some countries, has got to the point where that does raise questions."
He said that any British companies using the tests should be clear where the data is going, who holds it, and what access others, including other governments, would have to it.
"Unless a company has done that, I think it's perfectly reasonable for British people to be extremely concerned with these connections," he said.
He highlighted the huge positive difference genomic tests could make in the world but said now was the moment for a debate over privacy that could reshape society.
"This is a topic of very serious debate because privacy, whether that's genetic privacy or personal privacy is essential if we're going to have free societies and not simply a surveillance autocracy," he said.
"Having that debate between ourselves is essential to knowing what we can or can't share with businesses around the world, and indeed with state-owned enterprises in China."
(Production: Lucy Marks)
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