HomeAttacks on U.S.Congress Wants to Ban Chinese Company that Collects DNA from U.S. Citizens

Congress Wants to Ban Chinese Company that Collects DNA from U.S. Citizens

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A bipartisan effort in both the House and Senate is underway to introduce legislation that would effectively ban China’s largest genomics firm, Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), from operating within the U.S. This move comes after years of warnings from intelligence officials and experts about the potential dangers posed by China’s strategic collection of genetic information from Americans and others. The implications of this data collection are vast and deeply concerning, ranging from the development of targeted bioweapons to economic espionage.

The proposed bills, championed by leaders of the House Select Committee on the Chinese Communist Party and the Senate Homeland Security Committee, are aimed squarely at BGI. This company, once known as Beijing Genomics Institute, was blacklisted by the Pentagon in 2021 as a Chinese military company. The Commerce Department has sanctioned five of its affiliates, accusing at least two of them of misusing genetic information against ethnic minorities in China. Such actions have raised serious doubts about the intentions behind BGI’s operations and its ties to the Chinese government and military.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-Wis.) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) expressed their concerns and the urgency behind their legislation. Gallagher highlighted BGI’s significant presence in the American market as a supplier of genetic sequencing equipment and stated, “We think that’s a bad idea. And that’s what we’re trying to stop.” His sentiments were echoed by Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), chair of the Homeland Security Committee, who told NBC News, “This bill will protect Americans’ personal health and genetic information from foreign adversaries who have the ability and motivation to use it to undermine our national security.”

BGI, in response to the proposed legislation, argued that they fully support protecting personal data. However, they believe that the bill, which would drive BGI from the U.S. market, would not achieve this goal and instead restrict competition, raise healthcare costs, and limit access to technologies.

Despite BGI’s assertions that they do not operate clinical laboratories or have access to personal or genetic data and are not controlled or linked to the Chinese government or military, evidence suggests otherwise. Krishnamoorthi pointed out BGI’s extensive collaboration with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), noting, “They’ve published numerous papers in conjunction with the PLA with regard to their research. And so this type of military-civil fusion, which often occurs in the [People’s Republic of China], is of great concern, especially when they’re going to be collecting data, potentially on Americans to be then used in research with the PLA.”

BGI’s influence extends beyond the U.S., as evidenced by a 2021 Reuters investigation. The investigation found that BGI’s popular prenatal test, taken by millions of pregnant women globally, was developed in collaboration with the Chinese military and used by the firm to amass genetic data. The U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center reacted to these findings by warning that such testing kits could serve as a mechanism for China to collect genetic and genomic data globally.

The dangers of China’s collection of genetic data are multifaceted. Bill Evanina, who retired in 2021 as the top counterintelligence official in the U.S. government, compared BGI to Huawei, a Chinese 5G telecom giant banned from the U.S. market over spying risks. He described BGI as a “legitimate business that’s also masking intelligence gathering for nefarious purposes.” Evanina emphasized the economic risks, stating, “Genomics and DNA is the new oil. It’s a $4 trillion industry.”

However, it’s not just economic risks that are alarming. Evanina and Gallagher raised the possibility that China could use the genetic data to create targeted bioweapons that could affect specific groups of people. “It also ranges up to the threat of bespoke bioweapons that could target either an individual or a class of individuals. And for your [readers] who might think that that’s the stuff of science fiction or in the distant future, it’s not,” Gallagher said. “We know that’s … a technology that the CCP would love to perfect.”

Moreover, there are ethical concerns about China’s use of genetic information. There is fear that China might seek to use genetics to enhance human capabilities for military purposes. Evanina pointed out a study conducted by China on the genetic information of people living at high altitudes in the Himalayas, aiming to “build capacity” among Chinese soldiers for high-altitude warfare.

The potential for genetic information to be used for espionage recruitment is another worry. Evanina illustrated this with a hypothetical scenario: “Let’s assume, hypothetically, they had the ability to say, ‘Oh, look at Bill Evanina. OK, we just found out from all these data breaches, he’s behind on his mortgage. He lost his job. He’s got two kids in college. Oh, and he’s got a genetic sequencing marker that shows him predisposed to having hepatitis or you know, Parkinson’s. He’s very vulnerable.’”

The threat is far from theoretical. U.S. spy agencies have collected evidence of China’s malicious intentions regarding genetic material. Evanina asserted, “We know this because we collect this data from them covertly. This is not, like, made-up stuff. There is clandestine collection of their intent and their capability.”

The bottom line is that we know China is constantly looking for leverage. Collecting this kind of information has a great many sinister possibilities for tracking, compromising and blackmailing U.S. citizens, including faking evidence, custom diseases a much more that science fiction has cover but is perhaps nearer than you think. This whole industry is a dangerous one.

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