How Sensitive Is Genetic Data?

Sariyar, Murat; Suhr, Stephanie; Schlünder, Irene (2017). How Sensitive Is Genetic Data? Biopreservation and Biobanking, 15(6), pp. 494-501. 10.1089/bio.2017.0033

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The rising demand to use genetic data for research goes hand in hand with an increased awareness of privacy issues related to its use. Using human genetic data in a legally compliant way requires an examination of the legal basis as well as an assessment of potential disclosure risks. Focusing on the relevant legal framework in the European Union, we discuss open questions and uncertainties around the handling of genetic data in research, which can result in the introduction of unnecessary hurdles for data sharing. First, we discuss defining features and relative disclosure risks of some DNA-related biomarkers, distinguishing between the risk for disclosure of (1) the identity of an individual, (2) information about an individual's health and behavior, including previously unknown phenotypes, and (3) information about an individual's blood relatives. Second, we discuss the European legal framework applicable to the use of DNA-related biomarkers in research, the implications of including both inherited and acquired traits in the legal definition, as well as the issue of “genetic exceptionalism”—the notion that genetic information has inherent characteristics that require different considerations than other health and medical information. Finally, by mapping the legal to specific technical definitions, we draw some initial conclusions concerning how sensitive different types of “genetic data” may actually be. We argue that whole genome sequences may justifiably be considered “exceptional” and require special protection, whereas other genetic data that do not fulfill the same criteria should be treated in a similar manner to other clinical data. This kind of differentiation should be reflected by the law and/or other governance frameworks as well as agreed Codes of Conduct when using the term “genetic data.”

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


School of Engineering and Computer Science > Institut für Medizininformatik I4MI
School of Engineering and Computer Science


Sariyar, Murat;
Suhr, Stephanie and
Schlünder, Irene






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Date Deposited:

08 Oct 2019 10:36

Last Modified:

27 Oct 2020 19:46

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