US Warns Against China’s Efforts to Collect DNA Data



BETHESDA, Maryland – Chinese companies are collecting genetic data from around the world, as part of an effort by the Chinese government and companies to develop the world’s largest biological database, U.S. intelligence officials reported on Friday.

The National Counterintelligence and Security Center said in a new document that the United States needs to better secure critical technologies, including artificial intelligence, quantum computing, semiconductors and other technologies related to the so-called bioeconomy.

China and other countries are trying to dominate these technologies and use legal and illegal means to acquire American know-how, said Michael Orlando, acting director of the Counterintelligence Center, a branch of the intelligence director’s office. national.

The US private sector has long been in the crosshairs of China and other countries trying to steal US technology and intellectual property. Other countries like Russia also remain a threat, but China’s economic strength makes it the biggest threat, officials said.

China believes dominating these areas will give it an economic advantage, and US companies are investing heavily as well. Artificial intelligence and machine learning promise to revolutionize many aspects of life, including military operations. Quantum computing will allow countries to break the tightest encryption that exists today, and semiconductors are vital not only for computers, but for many consumer products.

But officials are now also emphasizing the intersection of technology and genetic and biological research as an area of ​​competition and espionage. Edward You, who is the national counterintelligence officer for emerging and disruptive technologies, said the Chinese government collects medical, health and genetic data from around the world. The country that builds the best information database will have an advantage in developing cures for future pandemics, and China already has an advantage, he said.

Beijing has a history of DNA data misuse, the counterintelligence center said, citing a 2019 New York Times report on how China is using genetic testing to track members of Uyghurs, a minority group. predominantly Muslim.

Quoting a Reuters report, Mr You said that a Chinese company, BGI, had developed a neonatal genetic test with the Chinese military that enabled it to collect information from millions of people around the world. The company moved to the United States in 2013, when it bought out an American genomics company.

The counterintelligence center also highlighted investments by WuXi, which bought a Pfizer manufacturing plant in China, announced a production facility in Massachusetts, and invested in 2015 in 23andMe, the mainstream genetics company.

“They are developing the world’s largest organic database,” You said of the Chinese government’s efforts. “Once they have access to your DNA data, it’s not something you can change like a PIN code.”

But 23andMe said fears of China stealing its data are misplaced.

WuXi has an investment of less than 1% in 23andMe and has never received any customer data, Jacquie Cooke Haggarty, deputy general counsel for the company, said in a statement. No data has ever been shared with a Chinese company and no investor has access to the data, she said.

“All of our testing is and always has been done in US-based labs,” she said.

The company also said it stores name and contact information separately from its genetic data. The company follows the highest encryption standards and tests its defenses daily, she said.

Mr Orlando said he was not advocating for the decoupling of the Chinese and US economies, but said the center was trying to warn companies of the risks of working with Chinese companies under the strict control of the Beijing government.

“We’re not telling people to go their separate ways, but if you’re planning to do business in China, be smart,” Mr. Orlando said.

Although China is looking for a wide range of trade data, the biggest threat is in the high-tech industries that Beijing has said it wants to dominate in the decades to come.

Officials in the United States and Europe have long said that China steals intellectual property, makes cheaper versions of products, bankrupt its Western competitors and then dominates the market. This is a model that China has followed in solar panels, for example.

“These technologies are essential and we cannot allow what has happened to other industries to happen here,” Orlando said.

In recent years, the FBI and the Counterintelligence Center have stepped up warnings to businesses and universities against Chinese attempts to steal American technology. Some of these openings have been met with skepticism, especially at universities who believe the US government may be trying to limit the number of Chinese students studying at US universities.

While the US government can review many acquisitions of US businesses by Chinese companies, other Chinese investments are more difficult to regulate. Mr. Orlando said that a US company in partnership with a Chinese company should take steps to protect its data.

“It’s all about the data,” You said. “There are national security implications that we need to understand. “


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