WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, and Bill Hagerty (R-TN) and U.S. Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party, introduced bipartisan legislation to help prevent foreign adversaries from stealing sensitive American genetic data and personal health information. The bipartisan Prohibiting Foreign Access to American Genetic Information Act of 2024would ban all biotechnology companies that are owned or controlled by a foreign adversary, such as the Chinese Communist Party, and whose business practices threaten national security, from receiving U.S. taxpayer dollars through federal contracts, grants and loans. A fast-track ban would be applied to the BGI Group (BGI), MGI, Complete Genomics, WuXi AppTec, as well as their subsidiaries, given the serious national security risk they pose due to their significant ties to the Chinese Communist Party. U.S. Senators Mitt Romney (R-UT) and Roger Marshall (R-KS) cosponsored the Senate legislation, and U.S. Representatives Neal Dunn (R-FL), Seth Moulton (D-MA), and Jake Auchincloss (D-MA) cosponsored the House legislation.
“Every day, Americans get their blood drawn or take other medical tests to protect their health. But, few people know exactly who has access to the DNA information contained in those samples or how they might use it. From DNA test kits to medical diagnostics, as the biotechnology sector becomes more prominent in everyday life, the threats posed by biotech companies controlled by foreign adversaries like the Chinese Communist Party continue to grow,” said Senator Peters. “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.”
“Backed by the PRC’s balance sheet, BGI and other highly-subsidized CCP-directed companies seek to undercut their way into dominating the U.S. biotech market while aggressively collecting the genetic and other sensitive medical data of tens of millions of Americans and transferring it back to China for malign or unknown purposes,” said Senator Hagerty. “We have seen this play before with Huawei and America’s telecoms sector. This bipartisan and bicameral bill will ensure U.S. taxpayer funds do not advance efforts by BGI and other CCP-backed companies to put Americans at long-term risk.”
“Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) collects genetic data of Americans uses it for research with the Chinese military. The CCP will undoubtedly use the genetic data collected by BGI to further its malign aggression, potentially even to develop a bioweapon used to target the American people,” said Chairman of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party Gallagher. “The good news is that Congress can do something about it. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress to support this bipartisan, bicameral legislation that finally takes action to protect Americans from actors like BGI.”
“It is unacceptable for U.S. taxpayer dollars to be used to subsidize biotech companies of our foreign adversaries. By allowing these companies to amass and analyze large amounts of foreign genomic data, we risk our most sensitive information being used by our foreign adversaries against us. Our legislation addresses this problem by establishing a regulatory framework to prevent the flow of taxpayer dollars to biotech entities of concern. Closing this loophole is the first step in protecting the American bioeconomy and our national security, and ensuring our genomic data is kept safe and secure,” said of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party Ranking Member Krishnamoorthi.
“Chinese-based biotechnology companies are collecting genetic and sensitive health data from millions of people around the world through medical diagnostics tests to give China the upper hand,” Senator Romney said. “We cannot allow the CCP to get their hands on Americans’ private health information. Our bipartisan legislation bans federal contracts and funding mechanisms to companies with ties to the CCP, helping make sure no American taxpayer dollars could be used to subsidize biotech companies that threaten our national security.”
“There is a growing body of evidence that the Chinese Community Party is guilty of threatening our national security and has an unapologetic history of concealing the truth,” Senator Marshall said. “Today’s bipartisan, bicameral legislation protects Americans’ sensitive genetic data from nefarious CCP-aligned actors like BGI and would build on the policies of the PREVENT Pandemics Act, which prohibited funding risky research located in countries of concern and put safeguards around HHS biomedical research involving human genomic information. The CCP should never have access to use Americans’ sensitive genetic information against us.”
Biotechnology is a rapidly expanding field with many beneficial applications, including promoting human health, improving agricultural production, and spurring industrial innovation. U.S. academic institutions and companies have accelerated investments in biotechnology to advance American science and maintain America’s global economic edge in this highly competitive and complex field. However, biological data, such as DNA sequences, can be exploited for military purposes, used to invade privacy, and violate human rights. The U.S. intelligence community has cited the Chinese Communist Party’s concerted efforts to acquire human genetic and related data through biotechnology companies, such as the BGI Group, as a serious threat to U.S. national security. Other adversarial governments also recognize the strategic value of biotechnology to gain military and economic advantage. The U.S. has taken some steps to mitigate these threats, including by adding BGI subsidiaries to the U.S. Department of Commerce Entity List – which identifies foreign entities that may pose a security threat to the United States. However, the Chinese government and other adversaries often seek ways to get around these restrictions, and a more comprehensive strategic approach to addressing these threats is needed.
According to reporting from Reuters, if the personal health information and genetic data of Americans, such as blood samples, DNA data, and individual medical history, get into the hands of adversarial foreign governments, it could pave the way for numerous security risks, including “genetically enhanced soldiers, or engineered pathogens to target the U.S. population or food supply.” According to the Washington Post, if companies who allow foreign governments to access this information are allowed to operate in the United States unchecked, those adversarial nations stand “to gain significant economic and strategic leverage against” the United States.
In addition to quickly banning the biotechnology companies with the most concerning business practices and ties to adversarial governments, the bipartisan legislation also establishes criteria to identify other companies of concern based on risks they may pose to U.S. national security. It also requires an annual review to ensure that new companies or existing companies that try to evade the ban through corporate restructuring can be readily identified as a potential threat. The bill would ensure that U.S. government employees—including uniformed servicemembers— would still be able to access health care or related services when stationed overseas through granted waivers.