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Sneaky DNA analysis to be outlawed

New Scientitst | August 30 2006

Genetic trophy hunters, beware. From Friday next week it will be illegal in the UK to covertly analyse someone's DNA. The Human Genetics Commission (HGC), which advises the UK government, says that such an act constitutes a "gross intrusion" on their privacy.

"Until now there was nothing to stop an unscrupulous journalist from secretly taking an everyday object used by a public figure - for example, a coffee mug - get a DNA sample from it, have it analysed and then publish their genetic information," says Helena Kennedy, who chairs the HGC.

When former US president Bill Clinton visited a pub in the UK in 1997, for example, his bodyguards reportedly removed his pint glass after he had drunk from it to stop this happening.

The new law, part of the Human Tissue Act 2004, makes it illegal to take a sample of someone's DNA and have it analysed without obtaining their consent. Employers tempted to use DNA to check up on staff, or insurance companies on their policy holders, will be prevented from doing so.

"The incredible thing about DNA is that it has impact not only on one person but on their whole family's privacy too," says Kennedy. "Suppose some prominent figure in politics was suspected of not being the father of a child and a tabloid got hold of a sample."

The legislation allows for some exceptions. For example, if a couple have a child and then separate, and the man has parental rights, he is entitled to have the child's DNA analysed without getting consent from either the child or mother. He could submit the DNA along with his own for paternity testing.

 

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