Genomic Privacy

Laboratory for Communications and Applications LCA

Genomic Privacy and Security

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Genomics is becoming the next significant challenge for privacy and security research. The price of a complete genome profile has plummeted below $200 for genome-wide genotyping (i.e., the characterization of about one million common genetic variants), which is offered by a number of companies (located mostly in the US). Whole genome sequencing is also offered through the same direct-to-consumer model (but at a higher price). This low cost of DNA sequencing will break the physician/patient connection, because private citizens (from anywhere in the world) can have their genome sequenced without involving their family doctor. This can open the door to all kinds of abuse, not yet fully understood.

As a result of the rapid evolution in genomic research, substantial progress is expected in terms of improved diagnosis and better preventive medicine. However, the impact on privacy and security is unprecedented, because (i) genetic diseases can be unveiled, (ii) the propensity to develop specific diseases (such as Alzheimer's) can be revealed, (iii) a volunteer accepting de facto to have his genomic code made public (as it already happened) can leak substantial information about his ethnic heritage and genomic data of his relatives (possibly against their will), and (iv) complex privacy issues can arise if DNA analysis is used for criminal investigations and insurance purposes. Such issues could lead to genetic discrimination (e.g., ancestry discrimination or discrimination due to geographic mapping of people). Even though the Genetic Information Non-discrimination Act (GINA), which prohibits the use of genomic information in health insurance and employment, attempted to solve some of these problems in the US, these types of laws are very difficult to enforce.

We are working on different aspects of genomic privacy and security with strong collaborations with the researchers in various fields. In particular, we focus on the following main research directions:


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