By Alistair Smoutlondon (Reuters) – Britain is looking at the possibility of designating its genetics sector as critical national infrastructure, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said on Monday, amid pressure from lawmakers concerned about its operation.
Genomics is the study of the genome – the complete set of DNA in a cell.
In 2021, Chinese group BGI teamed up with the Chinese military to develop prenatal tests and use them to collect genetic data from women around the world for research on population characteristics, Reuters reported.
BGI says it has never shared data for national security purposes and has never been asked to do so.
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Earlier this year, UK MPs wrote to the country’s data controller to investigate BGI, while campaigners also called for the government to investigate its links with British universities. Asked by one of these MPs whether the UK would designate genetics as critical national infrastructure, Dowden said he was considering it.
“It’s not currently designated as such, but in my role in the Cabinet Office I review the critical national infrastructure register and I’m looking into it,” he told MPs.
Critical National Infrastructure (CNI) is infrastructure that, if compromised, could cause significant harm to essential services or have a significant impact on national security. The CNI designation leads to greater scrutiny of how contracts and research are handled in a field.
Dowden defended the British government’s extensive record on CNI, citing measures such as the passage of the National Defense and Investment Act, which gave the government the ability to block takeovers in sectors sensitive to Chinese companies.
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