Friday, February 22, 2013

How Private Is Your Genome?

In its current term, the United States Supreme Court is slated to decide Maryland v. King, a case in which the legal issue is
Whether the collection and analysis of DNA from persons arrested and charged with serious crimes is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
In Maryland and many other jurisdictions, laws permitting the collection of DNA samples limit the use of such samples to uniquely identifying suspects via genetic loci that do not code for other phenotypic characteristics.

However, DNA samples could be used for many purposes beyond identification, including the sequencing of a suspects entire genome, and the use of the nucleotide data so generated to diagnose its owner for physical and mental traits, as well as susceptibilities to diseases and disorders.  As genetic sequencing and analysis technology has advanced, it has become only marginally more difficult and expensive to generate much more genetic data than that required for identification.

If knowledge is power, then knowledge of a genome can confer tremendous power over the owner of that genome.  A clear decision by the Supreme Court in Maryland v. King could reset the baseline for rights of genomic privacy.