Data collection and privacy

Edwards describes that there are a variety of decisions being made about how specimens are collected, how much information to keep, and on what are minimum standards of privacy and security in various areas.

She asks everyone in the room — do you know that you have, or do you think that you have, your own specimens or data in a biobank? About half the room raises a hand, many tentatively. Edwards then explains there are many ways our tissues or data are collected that we may not be aware of, even being collected at birth.

There are two trends in biobank privacy. In one, greater anonymization has led to stripping more personal identifiers from samples and data.

Another trend is in the opposite direction, though: in some repositories, a tight link is being kept between personal identifiers and a person’s samples and other data. Advocacy-based biobanks tend toward this trend.

The reasons include that people can manage and access their own data and larger medical and/or research profiles. In some cases, people can track the use of their data in research.

This latter trend is more complicated, ethically and practically, but it may also lead to greater benefits in science and in public understanding.

Russell notes that GAPPS enrolls women at their first pre-natal visit, not knowing who may end up with a pre-term birth or other relevant circumstance. This is a very expensive operation, but even so they spend a lot of time in education and in verifying that strict rules have been followed to collect enough and valid data.

Sewards then describes the issues in greater detail — when do you ask for consent? What does the consent form look like? A concern of hers is adding greater context to consent.

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