News Digest: “Anonymous” Genetic Data Samples Identified

The Information Program works to increase access to knowledge and protect civil liberties in the digital environment. The following is a roundup of news and analysis that the program team has been watching in the past week, compiled by Wendy M. Grossman, a freelance writer specializing in science and technology. This week’s top story highlights the difficulties of maintaining research participants’ privacy when their genetic information is made public.

You can keep up to date on the latest stories to catch the Information Program team’s attention on our Pinboard page.

“Anonymous” DNA samples identified
The authors of a study published in the journal Science were able to identify the individual owners of DNA sequences posted as part of the 1000 Genomes Project. The researchers used the participants’ ages and regions to match other publicly available datasets on the Web. Further searches enabled the researchers to build entire family trees. In response, the NIH has removed participants’ ages from the public data to make them harder to identify.

India: Amending the Copyright Act
Intellectual Property Watch reports that India has significantly amended its Copyright Act 1957, bringing it into compliance with the World Intellectual Property Organization’s Copyright Treaty (WCT) and Performances and Phonograms Treaty (WPPT). This is the sixth time the law has been amended.

UK: Police demand DNA samples from gay men
The Forensic Genetics Policy Initiative reports that UK police are threatening to arrest men convicted of homosexual offenses 30 years ago under a law that has since been abolished if they do not supply DNA samples for inclusion in the national database. The power to command samples from serious violent and sexual offenders was granted under the Crime and Security Act 2010.

France: Taxing the internet
The New York Times reports that France’s President Hollande has proposed an internet tax on the collection of personal data aimed at American technology companies such as Google, Facebook, and Amazon, which generate substantial revenues in France but pay very little tax there. Legislation would be required to implement the tax.

Privacy impact of Facebook’s new graph search
Many sources report that Facebook has announced plans to augment the site’s search functions by incorporating the social graph built up by its 1 billion users. Graph search will include data such as “Likes,” photos, tags, and status updates. EFF analyzes the privacy impact of Facebook’s plans and gives advice on how to protect data users did not intend to make public.
On graph search | Privacy impact

Poland: Circulations of Culture
This report from Centrum Cyfrowe Projekt: Polska studies content sharing in Poland, categorizing such sharing as formal or informal rather than legal or illegal. Among the results: 13 percent of Poles purchase content while 33 percent acquire it through informal digital circulation, and the average Polish internet user buys three times as many books and movies and seven times as much music as non–internet users.

EU: US opposes proposed data protection reform
In this posting, EDRI analyzes the U.S.’s lobbying document on data protection (i.e. privacy) reform. EDRI argues the paper bases much of its opposition to the reform proposals on misunderstandings or misrepresentations of the proposals.

The growth of open education
In this article, U.S. News and World Report discusses the growth of open education and the rising use of Creative Commons–licensed textbooks to improve on both the cost and efficiency of the textbook industry. Creative Commons also reports that Boundless, the company that provides free alternatives to traditional college textbooks, has released 18 textbooks under CC BY–SA licenses.
US News and World Report | Creative Commons

India: Compulsory drug licensing on trial
In this posting, Knowledge Ecology International reports on the opening stages of a hearing in the merits of Bayer’s appeal against India’s first compulsory drug license (for the cancer drug Nexavar). The case is expected to set important precedents on a range of issues such as the permissible grounds for granting compulsory licenses, the relationship between Indian patent law and the TRIPS agreement, and terms and conditions for compulsory licenses, including royalty rates.

Copyright activism in Malaysia
In this blog posting, EFF invited Jeremy Malcolm of Consumers International to explain recent changes to copyright law in Malaysia. The posting is one of a series in which digital activists involved in the Trans Pacific Partnership negotiations discuss copyright and their advocacy work in the countries where they are based.

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