Got genes: Obama proposes genetic biobank of 1mn Americans’ DNA to fight disease

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A new $215 million US government proposal would seek more than 1 million American volunteers for analysis of their genetic information in an initiative to fight disease, while developing targeted health care based on one’s DNA.

Officials hope the biobank project, announced Friday by President Barack Obama, can merge existing genetic studies with a diverse range of new volunteers to hit 1 million participants.

“Precision medicine gives us one of the greatest opportunities for new medical breakthroughs we’ve ever seen,” Obama said Friday, adding that it would “lay a foundation for a new era of life-saving discoveries.”

For the immediate future, the stated goal of the project is to fight disease, especially cancer, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), said at a news conference Thursday, Reuters reported.

Volunteers, he said, have “an opportunity to take part in something historic.”

In the long run, Collins said the initiative would help with individualized health care.

How the US government will ensure that individual genetic information is kept private will certainly become a point of concern for many. A government-led database system amassing genetic coding will likely face resistance in this age of a global spying regime run by the US National Security Agency (NSA) and a genetic patent system used by the likes of Monsanto to consolidate legal ownership of the natural world.

For now, President Obama has proposed $215 million of his 2016 budget for the project: $130 million would go to the NIH for research; $70 million to NIH’s National Cancer Institute to study molecular triggers of cancer for eventual drug production; $10 million to the US Food and Drug Administration to construct regulatory guidelines; and $5 million to the Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology to protect private data.

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The US Congress has signaled support for the biobank project, according to Science magazine, but it would still have to approve Obama’s funding proposal.

That level of funding for the DNA analysis project is not enough to gather 1 million original participants, as whole-genome sequencing costs about $1,000 per genome, Collins said.

He added that the government’s pool of volunteers would add to existing participants in genomic research such as the US Department of Veterans Affairs’ Million Veteran Program. Started in 2011, that project, which seeks to boost individualized care for veterans, has sequenced the DNA of about 200,000 people with 100,000 more enrolled.

Academic institutions have also gathered and analyzed hundreds of thousands of genomes with the aid of NIH funding, and private companies have worked together to collect DNA information.

For example, Regeneron Pharmaceuticals and Geisinger Health System teamed up in 2014 to sequence DNA of of 100,000 Geisinger patients. Using their anonymous health records, the companies then monitored for correlations between genetic makeup and disease.

Yet Craig Venter, head of the nonprofit Human Longevity Inc, pointed out that “we can’t just mingle databases. It sounds like a naive assumption” if the US government believes it can easily mix information from various sources.

Human Longevity is in the process of sequencing 1 million genomes by 2020. The privately-funded efforts will then be handed over to partnering pharmaceutical companies for drug development.

“We’re happy to work with them to help move the science,” Venter told Reuters, despite the project’s high aspirations.

Collins said Thursday that merging databases would be a challenge, but not an insurmountable one.

“It is something that can be achieved but obviously there is a lot that needs to be done,” he said.

Dr. Margaret Hamburg, the FDA’s commissioner, said Thursday a new regulatory structure to accompany the development of new drugs and precision medicine “presents a set of new issues for us at FDA,” adding that the agency is in the process of working on new ways to review individualized medical procedures.

DNA mapping is an increasingly valuable tool for law enforcement as well as the health industry. In its 2013 Maryland v. King ruling, the US Supreme Court narrowly decided that the Fourth Amendment allows law enforcement to, without a warrant, collect DNA samples from arrestees even if they have not been convicted of a crime.

“Make no mistake about it,” the dissenting group of justices wrote of the majority decision. “Your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

MEET LORETTA LYNCH – OBAMA’S ATTORNEY GENERAL NOMINEE WHO MIGHT BE EVEN WORSE THAN ERIC HOLDER

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Eric Holder made a career out of protecting and coddling financial oligarchs (his 1999 memo essentially invented “Too Big to Jail”)

by MICHAEL KRIEGER | LIBERTY BLITZKRIEG | JANUARY 30, 2015

On matters of policy, Ms. Lynch called capital punishment “an effective penalty” and said she disagreed with Mr. Obama’s statements that marijuana was no more harmful than alcohol. She called the National Security Agency’s collection of American phone records “certainly constitutional, and effective.”

– From the New York Times article: Criticism of Holder Dominates Hearing on Loretta Lynch, Attorney General’s Possible Successor

Eric Holder made a career out of protecting and coddling financial oligarchs (his 1999 memo essentially invented “Too Big to Jail”). This was such a lucrative decision for Mr. Holder, that it allowed him to climb all the way to the top of his profession. The dividends that supporting this man ultimately paid to Wall Street criminals were priceless. Not only were they bailed out despite wrecking the U.S. economy, they have since funneled all of the wealth gains since 2008 to themselves, while remaining above the law. This truly remarkable heist is what both Barack Obama and Eric Holder will be remembered for by history. Congratulations guys.

When Eric Holder announced his resignation, many of us breathed a sigh of relief thinking it can’t get much worse, but not so fast. The authoritarian streak and rampant cronyism of the Obama administration is a well oiled machine. You didn’t think you’d get off that easily did you? Enter Loretta Lynch.

I’ve touched upon Mrs. Lynch’s record previously, in the post, Wall Street Journal Reports Obama’s Attorney General Nominee Has Been Involved in $904 Million in Asset Forfeitures. Here’s an excerpt:

    As a prosecutor Ms. Lynch has also been aggressive in pursuing civil asset forfeiture, which has become a form of policing for profit. She recently announced that her office had collected more than $904 million in criminal and civil actions in fiscal 2013, according to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle. Liberals and conservatives have begun to question forfeiture as an abuse of due process that can punish the innocent.

Naturally, that was just the tip of the iceberg. What we have learned from her ongoing confirmation hearing is that she’s a lover of NSA spying and the death penalty, while disagreeing with the statement that “marijuana is no more harmful than alcohol.”

I wonder if she has much personal experience to base this opinion on, or if it’s just more of the same we “know what’s best for you plebs, despite the fact that we have no idea what we are talking about.”

Meet the new Attorney General, same as the old. From the New York Times:

    Ms. Lynch had steeled herself for tough questioning from a new Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee, particularly on her views of President Obama’s immigration policy. But the questioning was mostly cordial, and, most important, the Republicans on the committee who hold the key to Ms. Lynch’s confirmation — she needs three of their votes to proceed to a vote by the full Senate — showed little opposition.

Of course it was cordial. Other than perhaps immigration, she basically espouses complete and total neo-con principals.

On the issue of immigration, Ms. Lynch said she found it “reasonable” that the Justice Department had concluded it was lawful for Mr. Obama to unilaterally ease the threat of deportation for millions of unauthorized immigrants. Mr. Holder similarly endorsed that view.

Democrats see some Republicans, such as Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Orrin G. Hatch of Utah and Jeff Flake of Arizona, as possible confirmation votes. Mr. Flake said he had made no decision on Ms. Lynch but had come away with a favorable impression and expected that she would be confirmed.

On matters of policy, Ms. Lynch called capital punishment “an effective penalty” and said she disagreed with Mr. Obama’s statements that marijuana was no more harmful than alcohol. She called the National Security Agency’s collection of American phone records “certainly constitutional, and effective.”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat on the panel, said she had given “a flawless performance.” Senator Richard Blumenthal, Democrat of Connecticut, called her testimony “among the most accomplished and impressive that I’ve seen as a member of this committee.”
Oh, but there’s more. As if you needed proof that Ms. Lynch shares Eric Holder’s financial oligarch coddling tendencies, the International Business Times reports that:

WASHINGTON — In advance of her nomination hearing, Loretta Lynch did what every cabinet nominee is required to do: fill out a questionnaire listing all her media interviews so lawmakers can evaluate her candor. But the questionnaire U.S. attorney general nominee Lynch submitted to the Senate Judiciary Committee has a notable omission. Lynch failed to include an interview in which she defended the controversial settlement she orchestrated with the bank HSBC.

The bank was accused of knowingly allowing Mexican drug cartels to launder money and of allowing violations of economic sanctions against countries including Iran, Libya, Sudan and Cuba. Lynch, then the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, allowed the bank to avoid prosecution in 2012 by paying a $1.9 billion fine and submitting to a monitor for five years to oversee compliance. Critics slammed the deal as an example of the Obama administration’s pattern of going easy on the financial industry. In the Dec. 11, 2012, interview she did with CBS News, Lynch endorsed the settlement and dismissed criticism of the deal as “shortsighted.”

Lynch’s boss at the time of the HSBC deal, Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, who was then head of the Department of Justice’s criminal prosecution division, resigned after a scathing Frontline piece that highlighted Justice’s failure to try any of the banks tied to the recession and the risky trades that led to it. It was during a discussion of HSBC before the Senate Judiciary Committee that Attorney General Holder famously said some banks — although not HSBC specifically — were too big to prosecute.
Well there you have it. This woman, like Eric Holder, will be an unmitigated disaster for freedom in America.
That’s what “liberal” looks like in today’s America.

DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY RELAUNCHES “SEE SOMETHING, SAY SOMETHING” CAMPAIGN

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    Relaunch produced a few comical tweets in response

According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Twitter feed, the agency has relaunched its campaign to involve citizens in tracking down and reporting terrorists.

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The feds have not admitted it, but the effort has proved to be a dismal failure. It has not snagged a single terrorist.

In fact, according to author Harvey Molotch, New York’s “If You See Something, Say Something” campaign in New York’s subways has resulted in mostly producing false leads and other noise that has not stopped terrorists, most who are created by the FBI.

The relaunch, however, produced a few comical tweets in response:

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THE TSA WANTS TO READ YOUR FACEBOOK POSTS AND CHECK OUT YOUR PURCHASES BEFORE IT WILL APPROVE YOU FOR PRECHECK

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Factor in the TSA/DHS’s ever-mounting paranoia, and you’ve got a recipe for a slew of false positives

by TIM CUSHING | TECHDIRT | JANUARY 26, 2015

The TSA is disappointed that so few Americans have opted out of its bottle-tossing, package-groping screenings by signing up for its PreCheck program. For a few years now, the TSA has been selling travelers’ civil liberties back to them, most recently for $85 a head, but it’s now making a serious push to increase participation. The TSA can’t do it alone, so it’s accepting bids on its PreCheck expansion proposal. (h/t to Amy Alkon)

    The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is seeking vendors for TSA Pre√® Application Expansion initiative to develop, deliver, and deploy private sector application capabilities expanding the public’s enrollment opportunities for TSA Pre✓® through an Other Transactional Agreement (OTA) awarded by TSA. The Government plans to award an OTA to multiple vendors. The Government will evaluate the proposed ready-to-market solutions’ application capabilities against this TSA Pre√® Expansion Initiative Solicitation and Statement of Work.

This will involve a new pre-screening process to weed out terrorists by looking through a variety of “commercial data” sources. The proposal [pdf link] is very vague on the details of what “commercial data” will be used by these third parties.

Contractors may use commercial data to conduct an eligibility evaluation (also known as pre-screening) of potential applicants. The eligibility evaluation shall include, at a minimum, validating identity and performing a criminal history records check to ensure that applicants do not have disqualifying convictions in conjunction with the TSA Pre✓® disqualifying offenses…

The proposal goes on to say something that sounds like the TSA safeguarding PreCheck applicants’ privacy by standing between them and any crazy ideas third party contractors might have about “commercial data.”

As a second component to the eligibility evaluation, TSA may also consider approving an option to use additional private sector processes to conduct a provisional risk assessment (based on an algorithm developed by the Contractor) for the purposes of assisting in identifying those individuals believed to pose a low risk to transportation security. TSA must approve any commercial data inputs proposed for use by contractors to include those which validate identity and determine provisional low-risk status.
More protections here:

Risk assessments may not be based on race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, age, financial status (e.g., credit ratings/scores, liens, bankruptcies, foreclosures, annual income), health records, constitutionally protected activity, or other records reflecting an individual’s socio-economic status.
So far, so good. But while the TSA has pointed out a few examples of what won’t be permitted to be used to separate the threats from the travelers, it really never goes on to detail what will be permitted… at least not in the proposal itself. Those sources (and there are several) are tucked away inside the agreement boilerplate [pdf link] to be signed by winning contractors.

Here’s everything that’s open to inspection by PreCheck applicant screeners.

For purposes of this private sector enrollment initiative for the TSA Pre√® Application Program, “commercial data” includes: public record data, such as criminal history and real estate records produced by federal, state, and local governments; other publicly available information, such as directories, press reports, location data and information that individuals post on blogs and social media sites; and wide ranging data such as purchase information, customer lists from registration websites, and self-reported information provided by consumers that is obtained by commercial data sources such as data brokers.
So, the TSA is authorizing contractors to use social media posts in the screening process — which, yes, are by default public but tend to generate more noise than signal when it comes to spotting the terrorists in PreCheck approval queue.

[And I suppose my Facebook page — containing pictures I added a few months ago — will put me in the “questionable” group.]

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The TSA is looking to hire on third-party haystackers in order to pre-profile travelers. There’s a lot of “public/commercial data” out there, and very little of it has any relevance to the “threat level” of potential flyers. And the part about “purchase information” is particularly disturbing, considering the DHS would really like to have access to that data.

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson said his department will be issuing new guidance to retailers this week giving them pointers on how to spot potential terrorists among their customers by looking at what they’re buying.

    While saying the government cannot prohibit sales of some everyday materials, Mr. Johnson said retailers should be trained to look for anyone who buys a lot from what he described as a “long list of materials that could be used as explosive precursors.”

    He said it was an extension of the “If you see something, say something” campaign launched by his predecessor, former Secretary Janet Napolitano, which tries to enlist average Americans to be aware of their immediate environment.

Couple Johnson’s statements with this proposal sentence (which immediately follows the “Risk assessments may not be based on…” sentence from the paragraph above), and you get an idea where this PreCheck database is headed.

Any algorithm used must receive DHS approval, which will be based upon a DHS evaluation requiring testing and review of commercial data inputs during that process.
Whatever data the contractors grab will be viewed by the DHS first, before it makes its decision to keep or discard it. And this will be in addition to the huge amount of data these two agencies already dip into to determine how many “S’s” to print on your boarding pass. The TSA’s role in the PreCheck program will be mainly limited to waving successful applicants through. (Something it has previously done to alleviate congestion with no apparent concern about PreCheck approval and all of its “safeguards”.) So, this is really the DHS’s program, one that allows it partake of third-party data hoovering and add anything it deems relevant to its databases.

That’s a lot of info to turn over for shorter waits at the airport. Generally speaking, the government has little interest in your purchases and social media activities, but by applying for PreCheck, you give them the green light to go digging. Sure, most of what’s there isn’t necessarily private, but it’s still information most people wouldn’t assume the government would find to be relevant to airport security. Factor in the TSA/DHS’s ever-mounting paranoia, and you’ve got a recipe for a slew of false positives, especially when the latter considers photography of public buildings to be “suspicious activity.”