American lawmakers are taking a stand against the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), which is connected to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), over concerns about espionage and misuse of American DNA data. BGI, a biotech giant with ties to the Chinese military, has operated in the U.S. since 2010. It is now in the crosshairs of Congress due to its alleged efforts to collect Americans’ genetic material — a resource some refer to as “the new gold.”
Congressional action comes on the heels of a Pentagon classification of BGI as a “Chinese military company” and a 2021 U.S. intelligence assessment that implicated the firm in attempts to acquire human DNA from the U.S. for purposes that remain concerning. Central to the fears are CCP laws that compel Chinese companies like BGI to share data with the government. This data could be exploited in various ways, including economically and strategically, against U.S. interests.
To mitigate this perceived threat, legislation was introduced earlier this year within the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) by Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-WI). His initiative aims to bar BGI from conducting business with the U.S. government or receiving government reimbursement. If the Senate endorses the move through legislation proposed by Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-TN), it would signal a significant shift in the geopolitical dynamic between the U.S. and China.
Hagerty, voicing his support for the provision, underscored the alarming nature of BGI’s activities and the necessity of the legislation. He pointed out that genetic data harvested by BGI could be used in conjunction with the Chinese military for purposes that may not align with U.S. interests. This concern is amplified by the fact that Beijing chose BGI to operate the China National GeneBank. This repository houses genetic information from millions globally.
The Chinese Embassy in Washington, DC, denies any misconduct by Chinese companies in accessing genetic data. However, U.S. officials and experts like Anna Puglisi, former chief national counterintelligence officer for East Asia, recognize the potential leverage China could gain if it dominates the biotechnology sector, a goal it plans to achieve by 2035.
In a world where data is as precious as traditional commodities, safeguarding genetic information is not just a matter of privacy but national security. The proposed legislation reflects a growing understanding in Congress that the biotechnological advances of adversaries need to be addressed with the same seriousness as traditional military threats.
As the Senate and the House negotiate the final text of the NDAA, the inclusion of Gallagher’s provision would mark a proactive step in protecting the genetic and medical data of Americans from foreign exploitation. The bipartisan effort to include this critical provision in the final bill underscores the urgency of protecting sensitive health information from being used in ways that could undermine American security and prosperity.
The ongoing confrontation with BGI is more than a legal battle; it marks the struggle in the broader conflict over technological supremacy and data sovereignty. With the intelligence community ringing alarm bells since 2021, this legislation could be a cornerstone in the defense against biotech espionage and a crucial pivot in pursuing national security in the genomic era.