Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., introduced two bills to counter China’s efforts to collect American healthcare and genomic data both legally and illegally.
For years, Beijing has collected large amounts of U.S. healthcare data via illegal methods (e.g. cyberhacking), investments in American biotech companies, and partnerships with hospitals and universities to gain access to the sensitive information, The Epoch Times reported.
China’s actions pose serious privacy and national security risks, according to the National Counterintelligence and Security Center in a Feb.1 fact sheet.
Rubio introduced the Genomics Expenditures and National Security Enhancement Act and The Genomics Data Security Act on Thursday.
“There is no reason for American taxpayers to be funding Beijing’s research or for our policies to enable access to American’s genomic data,” Rubio said in a statement. “It’s imperative that Congress take steps to confront this growing national security and privacy threat.”
The GENE Act, co-sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, would require the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Senate Committee on Foreign Relations to be included in Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States briefings.
It also would direct CFIUS to rewrite its regulations to require mandatory filing for any deal that involves a company working with genetic information, Rubio’s office said.
The legislation would require that the Department of Health and Human Services be consulted on any deal that involves a genetic data transaction.
Rubio’s second bill aims to prevent any entity with direct ties to the Chinese government from receiving any National Institutes of Health funding.
Every Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments Act certificate would be required to specify if a company with access to Americans’ health data is directly tied to the Chinese communist government.
The Epoch Times reported that massive amounts of genomic information (a person’s entire genetic sequence) can fuel developments in the cutting-edge field of precision medicine (or personalized medicine). That could allow China to overtake the U.S. to become a global leader in biotech, according to the NCSC.
Genomic data also can be used to target individuals for intelligence and military operations.
In November, Newsweek reported China’s state media claimed the country owned the world’s largest database of genetic material — 80 million profiles.
At least 15 Chinese firms were licensed to perform genetic testing or sequencing on U.S. patients, giving them access to genetic data, according to a 2019 report by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
The report also said Americans’ genomic information was particularly valuable to China due to the U.S. population’s ethnic diversity. Varied data sets are more useful in research to identify genetic diseases.
The Chinese government last year passed laws to severely limit the ability of foreign firms to access its people’s biological data.
U.S. personal data has been compromised in recent years through several massive cyber hacks, which included intrusions on the U.S. government’s personnel agency, credit reporting agency Equifax, and health insurer Anthem.
Chinese hackers obtained the personal information of 80 million insured and employees of Anthem, the second-largest health insurer in the U.S., in an attack discovered in January 2015, according to Newsweek.
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