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DNA is the ultimate big-data dream. It can shed light on our health, ancestry, and family members. It can be used to solve crimes and exonerate the innocent, investigate diseases and treatments, advance basic scientific knowledge, and reveal certain aspects of our histories and potential futures.

But as genetic data is collected and used in increasingly varied contexts, issues of privacy, rights, access, justice, and innovation are poised to collide – and to intersect our lives in both positive and negative ways. The questions raised by this coming collision won’t be answered immediately, but we need to start now to tease out their complexities.

Many suitors are lining up to exploit the explosion of genetic information.
  • Local police agencies are creating their own databases – some call them “rogue” databases – and the Supreme Court recently determined that state and federal authorities can take DNA from people arrested (pre-conviction) for serious crimes.
  • Companies are rushing to patent genetic findings, even when such claims are absurd (and now, at least partially, ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court).
  • Marketing and advertising gurus...