29 Dec 2015

Japan to extend privacy laws to protect genetic data

The Japanese government has decided to revise the country's privacy laws in order to clarify protections for personal genetic data, ending ongoing uncertainty around the legal status of genome-based information.

Leigh Prather

On Friday, an expert panel compiled by the government of Japan decided that the country's privacy laws ought to treat genome data as personal identification codes, akin to fingerprints or digitized facial feature maps. As such, genetic data will be legally classified as highly sensitive personal information, inaccessible to third parties without an individual's consent. The decision ends an ongoing grey area around the legal status of genetic information in Japan, wherein such data has typically been anonymised and then exempt from legal privacy protection. The Japanese government will issue formal guidelines in relation to the decision next year.

Academic exemption

Some have raised concerns that the strengthened protections for genetic information may prove a stumbling block for vital medical research. However, it has been reported that academic research projects that utilise genetic data mapping will likely be exempt from the privacy protections. If data used within academic research were treated as highly sensitive, researchers may be prevented from sharing their research findings with colleagues. Source: Nikkei Asian Review