Peters  Introduces  Bill to Protect American Genetic Data From Foreign Adversaries

WASHINGTON, D.C.   U.S. Senator Gary Peters (D-MI), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, introduced legislation to combat the ability of foreign adversaries to steal American genetic data and personal health information. The bill would prevent biotechnology companies, such as the BGI Group (BGI), that have significant ties to foreign adversaries, such as the Chinese Communist Party, from accessing American genetic data and personal health information by creating a comprehensive process to identify companies with business practices that pose a threat to U.S. national security. The bill would also ban companies that are identified as national security risks from receiving taxpayer dollars through federal government contracts. 

“Every day, Americans get blood drawn or take other medical tests to protect their health, but few people know exactly who might have access to the DNA information contained in those samples. As the biotechnology sector becomes more prominent in everyday life, the threats posed by biotech companies controlled by adversaries, like the Chinese government, loom larger.” said Senator Peters. “My bill will protect Americans’ personal health and genetic information from foreign adversaries who have the ability and motivation to undermine our national security.” 

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 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 (BGI) 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. 

The Safeguarding American Genetic Data Act of 2023 would require the President to rapidly identify biotechnology companies that pose a threat to U.S. national security by utilizing expert advice from all relevant federal agencies and block those companies from receiving taxpayer-funded federal contracts. Based on existing threat information and known problematic business practices, a determination will specifically be made within 180 days of enactment whether BGI, MGI, or Complete Genomics are biotechnology companies of concern that should be banned from federal contracts. Federal leaders would subsequently develop and implement regulations to prohibit federal agencies from procuring or obtaining biotechnology equipment and services from companies of concern, and examine whether such a prohibition should be expanded to grant recipients to better protect American genetic data and personal health information from being given to foreign adversaries.