“Gulf” in action – call for genomics data to be declared critical national infrastructure

11 May 2023

Orkney and Shetland MP, Alistair Carmichael, has today called for the UK’s genomic databases to be declared critical national infrastructure by the government. Questioning ministers for the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for national security issues, Mr Carmichael highlighted the recent speech by the US Secretary of State on Tuesday, who stated that “advances in biotech have enabled genomics surveillance based on a person’s DNA, potentially facilitating abuses”. The MP noted that gap in the approach taken to genomics and national security by the UK and other allies in the “Five Eyes” had turned into a “gulf”.

Speaking in the House, Mr Carmichael said:

“Can recommend to the minister that he read the speech from Tuesday by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, where he outlined the threat that the misuse of genomics databases can pose not just to security but to democracy as a whole.

“Contrast that with the situation in this country where we have a Chinese genomics giant now opening a new lab in this country. When is the government going to wake up to the threat here?”

Responding, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Oliver Dowden MP said:

“I would like to assure him that we do take these threats very seriously. We designate critical national infrastructure in relation to things that are important to the day to day running of the United Kingdom, literally keeping the lights on. That doesn’t mean we don’t take very seriously the threats he talks about and it is something I am raising with the Department for Health which is the lead department on genomics.”

Reacting after the exchange, Mr Carmichael said:

“The potential misuse of people’s genomic data is a risk to national security but also to individual privacy and safety. That is true on a national and local scale as genetic markers big and small can be used, as the case of the Uyghurs in China shows. These issues really are crucial but the government appears to be asleep at the wheel.

“The gap between the approach taken by our allies and by the UK government on genomics security is rapidly turning into a gulf. We need to see ministers wake up to the scale of the problem and designate genomic databases as critical national infrastructure.”

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