Because such a wealth of personal information on nearly everyone is now available online, a person’s anonymous genetic information may be enough to allow a third party to identify who the person is and where he or she lives. “[I]n a paper published in Science this week, a team led by Yaniv Erlich of the Whitehead Institute in Cambridge, Massachusetts, used publicly available genetic information and an algorithm they developed to identify some of the people who donated their DNA to HapMap’s successor, the 1000 Genomes Project.”
What’s the Big Idea?
Erlich said that the medical profession could no longer guarantee the anonymity of individuals who had submitted their genomic information under such a promise. “He does not expect that this will deter people from donating their genetic information: the fact that credit cards are frequently stolen does not stop people from using them.” The best defense against the abuse of personal information, said Erlich, is a strong legal system that inspires confidence in the public and punishes those who violate privacy laws. “It’s not about how to protect privacy anymore, it’s how to not misuse data.”