Improved genetic mapping leads to privacy concerns - B.C. Civil Liberties Association

by jeeg 24. January 2012 23:54

The federal government's tough on crime agenda and better-than-ever genetic mapping technologies means more legal protections are needed to protect the privacy of Canadians, according to a report commissioned by the B.C. Civil Liberties Association.

Improved genetic mapping technologies can help screen for diseases and create effective treatment plans, but that sensitive, personal information could also prevent people from getting certain jobs or insurance, according to the report titled Genetic Privacy and Discrimination, which was funded by the Law Foundation of British Columbia.

More needs to be done by Canadian law makers to ensure sensitive genetic and health information remains private, said BCCLA's policy director, Micheal Vonn.

The use of DNA banking in criminal investigations has also been on the rise in Canada over the last decade, and Vonn says that program requires more scrutiny.

"Canadians keep being told that they should be excited by the revolution in genetic medicine," she said. "But our medical privacy is already under threat because of electronic health records and Canadian privacy laws that have a lot of loopholes."

For instance, the Canadian Medical Association indicated in 2011 that physicians are not able to guarantee that personal medical information will remain private once it's entered into electronic health records, she said, referring to the report. Personal genetic data could be included in those records, and doctors don't know who can access them, she added. "Patients do not really have the ability to control their health information like they believe that they do."

Vonn said the Canada's privacy commissioner highlighted genetic privacy as a "priority" two years ago but "we haven't seen any legal policy or reform," since then. Genetic technologies have only continued to accelerate.

The report also looks at the expanding role of DNA in Canadian criminal investigations.

Designated uses of DNA in criminal investigations increased from 37 offences in 1995, to 265 offences 15 years later, according to Data Bank of Canada figures cited in the report.

Prosecutors can request DNA samples in various categories, including secondary indictable offences such as drug violations, dangerous driving and possession of explosives. (Taking samples in these categories and others require the court's approval.)

Vonn said there should be no expansion of DNA banking criteria in Canada until there is a legal and political conversation about reasonable limits.

She pointed to the U.K. which she said "notoriously has over a million innocent individuals on their national DNA database."

"[Genetic] information can, or could one day, limit opportunities in employment, schooling and insurance matters, and even in decisions about reproductive choices," she said.

Evan Duggan, Vancouver Sun



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