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Committee Advances Romney-Backed Legislation to Protect American Genetic Data from Foreign Adversaries

WASHINGTON—The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee today voted to advance bipartisan legislation cosponsored by U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) that would help prevent foreign adversaries from stealing sensitive American genetic data and personal health information. The Prohibiting Foreign Access to American Genetic Information Act of 2024 would ban all biotechnology companies that are found to be owned or controlled by a foreign adversary’s government, such as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and whose business practices threaten national security, from receiving U.S. taxpayer dollars through federal contracts, grants, and loans. The legislation, led by Senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Bill Hagerty (R-TN), now moves to the full Senate for consideration.

A fast-track ban would be applied to the BGI Group (BGI), MGI, Complete Genomics, WuXi AppTec, as well as their subsidiaries, given the serious national security risk they pose due to their significant ties to the Chinese Communist Party. The Senate legislation was also cosponsored by Roger Marshall (R-KS), James Lankford (R-OK), Rick Scott (R-FL), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Mark Warner (D-VA). The House companion legislation was introduced by U.S. Representatives Mike Gallagher (R-WI) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition Between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party.

“Chinese-based biotechnology companies are collecting genetic and sensitive health data from millions of people around the world through medical diagnostics tests to give China the upper hand,” Senator Romney said. “We cannot allow the CCP to get their hands on Americans’ private health information. Our bipartisan legislation bans federal contracts and funding mechanisms to companies with ties to the CCP, helping make sure no American taxpayer dollars could be used to subsidize biotech companies that threaten our national security. I’m pleased the Committee approved this critical legislation and urge my colleagues to support it when it comes to the Senate floor.”

“The threats posed by biotech companies controlled by foreign adversaries continue to grow. It’s important that when Americans undergo typical medical care, such as getting their blood drawn or other tests, they are confident their DNA will not end up in the wrong hands.” said Senator Peters. “This bill is a critical step to ensuring that Americans’ personal health and genetic information cannot be used by foreign adversaries to undermine our national security.”

“Backed by the PRC’s balance sheet, BGI, WuXi AppTec, and other highly-subsidized CCP-directed companies seek to undercut their way into dominating the U.S. biotech market while aggressively collecting the genetic and other sensitive medical data of tens of millions of Americans and transferring it back to China for malign or unknown purposes,” said Senator Hagerty. “We have seen this play before with Huawei and America’s telecoms sector. I’m pleased that the Committee sent a strong message this morning in favor of preventing U.S. taxpayer funds from advancing these efforts that put Americans at long-term risk, and I urge the full Senate to promptly take up this bill.”

“The Chinese Community Party has threatened our national security in more ways than one and has an unapologetic storied history of concealing the truth,” Senator Marshall said. “Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation protects Americans’ sensitive genetic data from nefarious CCP-aligned actors like BGI. The CCP should never have access to use Americans’ sensitive genetic information against us, and we will do all that we can to ensure we safeguard this data.” 

     

“Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI) collects genetic data of Americans uses it for research with the Chinese military. The CCP will undoubtedly use the genetic data collected by BGI to further its malign aggression, potentially even to develop a bioweapon used to target the American people,” said Chairman of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party Gallagher. “The good news is that Congress can do something about it. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle and in both chambers of Congress to support this bipartisan, bicameral legislation that finally takes action to protect Americans from actors like BGI.”

“It is unacceptable for U.S. taxpayer dollars to be used to subsidize biotech companies of our foreign adversaries. By allowing these companies to amass and analyze large amounts of foreign genomic data, we risk our most sensitive information being used by our foreign adversaries against us. Our legislation addresses this problem by establishing a regulatory framework to prevent the flow of taxpayer dollars to biotech entities of concern. Closing this loophole is the first step in protecting the American bioeconomy and our national security, and ensuring our genomic data is kept safe and secure,” said of the House Select Committee on the Strategic Competition between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party Ranking Member Krishnamoorthi.

Background:

Biotechnology is a rapidly expanding field with many beneficial applications, including promoting human health, improving agricultural production, and spurring industrial innovation. U.S. academic institutions and companies have accelerated investments in biotechnology to advance American science and maintain America’s global economic edge in this highly competitive and complex field. However, biological data, such as DNA sequences, can be exploited for military purposes, used to invade privacy, and violate human rights. The U.S. intelligence community has cited the Chinese Communist Party’s concerted efforts to acquire human genetic and related data through biotechnology companies, such as the BGI Group, as a serious threat to U.S. national security. Other adversarial governments also recognize the strategic value of biotechnology to gain military and economic advantage. The U.S. has taken some steps to mitigate these threats, including by adding BGI subsidiaries to the U.S. Department of Commerce Entity List – which identifies foreign entities that may pose a security threat to the United States. However, the Chinese government and other adversaries often seek ways to get around these restrictions, and a more comprehensive strategic approach to addressing these threats is needed.

According to reporting from Reuters, if the personal health information and genetic data of Americans, such as blood samples, DNA data, and individual medical history, get into the hands of adversarial foreign governments, it could pave the way for numerous security risks, including “genetically enhanced soldiers, or engineered pathogens to target the U.S. population or food supply.” According to the Washington Post, if companies who allow foreign governments to access this information are allowed to operate in the United States unchecked, those adversarial nations stand “to gain significant economic and strategic leverage against” the United States.

In addition to quickly banning the biotechnology companies with the most concerning business practices and ties to adversarial governments, the bipartisan legislation also establishes criteria to identify other companies of concern based on risks they may pose to U.S. national security. It also requires an annual review to ensure that new companies or existing companies that try to evade the ban through corporate restructuring can be readily identified as a potential threat. The bill also creates a redress process for biotechnology companies who are identified by the annual review process as a company of concern, allowing them the chance to appeal their designation before it is final. The bill includes provisions to help keep American pharmaceutical supply chains stable and allow current contracts to be completed before the ban applies, giving time for companies to figure out alternatives. The bill would ensure that U.S. government employees—including uniformed servicemembers— would still be able to access health care or related services when stationed overseas through granted waivers.