Do you think the NSA surveillance issue is bad? Wait until you hear about the U.S. government’s DNA tracking program. A 2007 law mandated the collection of blood samples from the heels of newborns to screen for diseases, but an updated part of the law could be used to track children in education.
The program, Newborn Screening Saves Lives Act of 2007, was reauthorized by the House of Representatives this past June and the Senate in January 2014. The original sponsor was Democratic U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd and was signed in 2008 by President George W. Bush.
The purpose of the program was to screen newborns, but according to The Heartland Institute newsletter, “The new bill would collect each newborn’s DNA in federal databases for subsequent medical research and, in Rhode Island, track its owners’ education progress. The article, titled, “U.S. House Oks Funding for DNA Tracking Program,” also spoke of how Rhode Island officials denied that the information was being kept and not discarded.
Rhode Island received a Race to the Top grant, and in its application, said it would link the blood testing to tracking children’s academic progress. The grant was given to the state by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services totaling $50 million in 2011. And, adding to concern, no parental consent is required in this program, which is only operating in Rhode Island.
Also, this law’s renewal will cost $80 million between the years 2015 to 2019, says the Congressional Budget Office (CBO). The CBO’s estimates are typically underestimates, and in their own words, “assuming appropriation of necessary amounts.”
The specific mandates from this law are:
- Screening these samples and placing them into a national database
- Giving grants to states to conduct research, give counsel and provide services to newborns and children that have or are at risk of getting certain diseases
- Developing and promoting educational material on screening and follow-up visits
- “Expands the duties” of the “Advisory Committee on Heritable Diseases” that would make recommendations on expanding screening and creating a “decision-matrix” of the screenings
- Keeping an updated “central clearinghouse of current information on newborn screening”
- Maintaining quality assurance and quality control of the newborn screenings
- Collecting data on the newborn screenings and making it available for research
- Creating “a national contingency plan for newborn screening”
- Continuing to innovate and help identifying treatments and experiments that would help improve screening technology
Editor’s note: The original published version said that President Barack Obama signed the bill into law in 2008. It was President George W. Bush that signed it into law in 2008.