. "3 Issues in the Control of Genome Information: From Discussions of the Committee's Workshop." Seeking Security: Pathogens, Open Access, and Genome Databases. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2004.
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Seeking Security: Pathogens, Open Access, and Genome Databases
hypotheses and to use work published by others to make new advances in their own research. Openness allows science to move faster, and this could lead to new biodefense strategies and products. It is impossible to predict who will benefit from having access to different kinds of data, and it could be argued that the data most likely to be restricted are those most important to biodefense research. Science relies on people’s being open to unexpected connections, and these connections can offer opportunities for important scientific advances. The more available the data, the more likely that novel findings will be discovered. Another argument against U.S. restriction of access to genome databases concerns how the action would be viewed globally. International cooperation is facilitated by transparency. Restricting access to data could arouse suspicions of policy-makers and security experts in other countries about the types of research being conducted in secret. Because of the similarities between some offensive and defensive research, some legitimate classified threat-analysis work conducted in the United States has already caused concern among our closest allies. Many feel that that it is safer to have results and data available to all so that others can verify or refute the results or question the propriety of continuing lines of research.
Requiring registration to access genome databases might be less controversial than directly restricting access to data in that the information would be available to all who were willing to identify themselves. Databases and some computer tools can be accessed anonymously without specialized equipment, and this accessibility has benefits to those who wish to use the data to create bioweapons. Requiring users to register may deter some potential malefactors from accessing the data and encourage them to move on to other activities. However, registration raises challenging ethical questions concerning the monitoring of database use. Consensus would need to be reached on when database use is analyzed, what constitutes suspicious activity, who is authorized to analyze use, and what actions will be taken in response to suspicious activity. A simple system of registration would not be useful for identifying those who might carry out bioterrorist acts. In addition to the ethical issues, it would be expensive to implement and maintain a system capable of providing informative data on its users. It would also be challenging to determine an efficient way to monitor users for suspicious activity. Effective use of registration would require the cooperation of those managing all known databases and perhaps the international sharing of registration mechanisms.