Tue. Feb 27th, 2024

Congress wants to ban China’s largest genomics firm from doing business in the U.S. Here’s why.

By 37ci3 Jan 26, 2024



Bipartisan legislation was introduced Thursday in both houses of Congress that would effectively ban it DemonThe largest genomics company has refused to do business in the United States after years of warnings from intelligence officials that Beijing was collecting genetic information on Americans and others. in ways that could harm national security.

The bills, backed by leaders of the House Select Committee on the Communist Party of China and the Senate Homeland Security Committee, target BGI, formerly known as the Beijing Genomics Institute, and in 2021 blacklisted As a Chinese military company by the Pentagon. There were also branches of five companies sanctioned Commerce Department, accusing at least two of them of improperly using genetic information against ethnic minorities Demon.

In an exclusive interview with NBC News, R-Wis. Rep. Mike Gallagher and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Ill., said their legislation would bar BGI or any company that uses its technology from federal contracts. the company said in a statement that it would “withdraw BGI from the US market.”

BGI “remains the leading supplier of genetic sequencing equipment in the American market,” Gallagher said. “We think it’s a bad idea. And we are trying to stop it.”

Similar legislation is proposed by D-Mich., who chairs the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Introduced by Reps. Gary Peters and Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn. With bipartisan, bicameral support, supporters say the bills have a good chance of becoming law.

“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,” Peters told NBC News.

In a statement, BGI said it “fully supports privacy protections, but legislation that would effectively remove BGI from the U.S. market would not achieve that goal, but would instead limit competition, increase healthcare costs, and limit access to technologies.”

The company said it “does not operate clinical laboratories or collect patient samples, nor does it have access to personal or genetic information” and that “BGI is not controlled by or affiliated in any way with the Chinese government or military.”

Krishnamoorthi said the evidence says otherwise.

“The BGI has extensive cooperation with the People’s Liberation Army,” he said. “They have published numerous papers with the PLA on their research. And so this type of military-civilian combination that happens often [People’s Republic of China]especially when they will collect data on Americans that will later be used in research by the PLA, which is of great concern.

BGI and its subsidiaries spent $420,000 on lobbying in 2023. Open secretsa group that tracks lobbying spending.

Moment investigation Reuters reported in 2021 that BGI’s popular prenatal test — taken by millions of pregnant women around the world, not just in the U.S. — was developed in collaboration with the Chinese military and used by the firm to collect genetic data.

The US National Counterintelligence and Security Center responded to the Reuters report, warning that “non-invasive prenatal testing kits sold by Chinese biotech firms serve an important medical function, but they could provide another mechanism for the People’s Republic of China and Chinese biotech companies to can collecting genetic and genomic data from all over the world,” the center said.

A public newsletter In February 2021, the counterintelligence center warned that China “has been able to gain access to US health information, including genomic data, through a variety of channels, both legal and illegal, for years.” The bulletin added that the collection “poses equally serious risks not only to the privacy of Americans, but to the economic and national security of the United States.”

Bill Evanina, who will retire in 2021 as the top counterintelligence official in the U.S. government, said he worked for years to raise the alarm about BGI and other Chinese companies collecting genetic information. He compared BGI to the Chinese 5G telecom giant, which has been banned from the US market due to espionage risks.

“Biotechnologically, BGI is no different from Huawei,” he said. “It is this legitimate business that provides cover for intelligence gathering, but also for nefarious purposes.”

Evanina described the multiple risk layers of genetic data when combined with other personal data that the U.S. says was stolen by Chinese intelligence services. One is economic—China can make headway in a cutting-edge biotech industry that promises to transform healthcare.

“Genomics and DNA are the new oil. This is a $4 trillion industry,” Evanina said.

But Evanina and Gallagher said there is also concern that China could use genetic information to create targeted bioweapons that would work on one group of people and not another.

“This ranges from the threat of bespoke bioweapons, which can target either an individual or a group of individuals. And for you [readers] Who would think this is science fiction or in the distant future, it’s not,” Gallagher said. “We know this is a technology … that the CCP wants to perfect.”

There are also concerns that China, which does not generally accept Western medical ethics, may seek to use genetics to enhance human capabilities, including for military purposes. He pointed to Evanina report China has studied the genetic information of people living at high altitudes in the Himalayas in order to “build capability” among Chinese soldiers forced to fight at high altitudes.

Another concern is that genetic information could be used to target vulnerable Americans for espionage.

“Let’s say, hypothetically, they had the ability to say, ‘Oh, look at Bill Evanina.’ OK, we just found out from all these data breaches, it’s behind the mortgage. He lost his job. They have two children in college. Oh, and it has a genetic sequencing marker This suggests that he is prone to hepatitis or Parkinson’s disease. He’s very sensitive.’”

Evanina said that the threat is not theoretical. US spy agencies say they have gathered evidence of Chinese malice when it comes to genetic material.

“We know this because we secretly collect this information from them,” he said. “This is not a fiction. There is a secret gathering of their intentions and capabilities.”



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