LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is considering classifying its genomics sector as critical national infrastructure, Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden said on Monday, amid pressure from lawmakers concerned about China’s activity in the field.
Genomics is the study of the genome – the complete set of DNA contained in a single cell.
In 2021, Reuters reported that the Chinese group BGI developed prenatal tests in cooperation with the Chinese military and used them to collect genetic data from women around the world to research population characteristics.
BGI claims it never shared data for national security purposes and was never asked to do so.
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Earlier this year, British parliamentarians wrote to the country’s data regulator asking it to investigate BGI, while campaigners also wrote to the government demanding an investigation into the company’s links to British universities. Asked by one of those MPs whether the UK would designate the genomics sector as critical national infrastructure, Dowden said that was a legitimate point he was considering.
He told MPs: “It is not currently classified as such, but in my role in the Cabinet Office I am keeping the critical national infrastructure register under review, which is something I am exploring.”
Critical national infrastructure is infrastructure that, if compromised, could have a significant adverse impact on essential services or a significant impact on national security. The classification of critical national infrastructure may lead to greater scrutiny of how contracts and research are handled in one sector.
Dowden defended the British government’s broader record on the National Investment Centre, citing measures such as the approval of the National Security and Investment Act, which gave the government the ability to block takeovers in sensitive sectors by Chinese companies.
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