The National Counterintelligence and Security Center revealed and confirmed in a recent report that China has been gaining access to health records, genomic data (sequenced DNA), and PII (personally identifiable information) of over 250 million people in the U.S. over the past several years.
In May 2015 the Chinese government created the “Made in China 2025” plan with the goal of making China dominant over global high-tech industries. They seek to be dominant over electrical equipment, aerospace technology/equipment, robotics, information technology, and medicine & medical devices, amongst other such things.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, China aggressively marketed Chinese made COVID-19 testing kits around the world, as well as laboratories to support COVID-19 testing. By August 2020, China’s leading genomics company, BGI, said it had sold test kits to 180 countries and established labs in 18 countries. Per the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, these labs have been providing Chinese researchers with access to healthcare data from around the world. BGI has also worked with the Chinese military, although they have denied this.
Large genomic data sets from diverse populations can help with new medical discoveries and cures. The U.S. has one of the most diverse populations, which can be quite attractive to China. There are also fewer safeguards on medical and healthcare data in the U.S. compared to other countries, which makes it even more attractive.
Article 7 of China’s 2017 National Intelligence Law, mandates that all Chinese companies and citizens shall support, assist, and cooperate with Chinese national intelligence efforts, and guard the secrecy of any national intelligence work that they’re aware of. Over the years, Chinese companies have taken advantage of this law by investing in U.S. companies that handle sensitive healthcare and other personal data.
In 2013, BGI (formerly Beijing Genomics Institute) purchased U.S. genomic sequencing firm, Complete Genomics. In 2015, WuXi Pharma Tech acquired U.S. firm NextCODE Health which later became WuXi NextCODE Genomics.
In 2019, a report prepared for the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission found that at least 15 Chinese companies had licensing to perform genetic testing and/or genomic sequencing in the U.S., giving them access to Americans’ personal data.
Chinese companies have partnered with hospitals, universities, and other research organizations in America which gives them access to U.S. healthcare data. Many such places in the U.S. would buy from Chinese biotech companies being that they can provide cheap genomic sequencing services.
Two Chinese men were arrested in the U.S. July 2020 after a decade long hacking spree, with their last one being an attempt into Moderna’s systems while the company was researching the COVID vaccine. Prosecutors said that the two men acted as contractors for China’s Ministry of State Security.
China also gets data illegally. China has been blamed for multiple huge data thefts from as early as 2014. Data thefts include individual records taken stolen the credit agency, Equifax (145 million records), the hotel chain Marriott (400 million), the Anthem health insurance company (78 million), and the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (21 million), which stores sensitive files on government workers, including fingerprints and information on security clearances.
Having all of this information gives China many opportunities to target individuals in foreign countries for potential surveillance, manipulation, or extortion.
Issues revealed by genomic data or health records could be used to help target certain individuals. Data associated with an embarrassing addiction or mental illness, and credit data showing bad credit or bankruptcy could be used for blackmail.
Having these tremendous amounts of healthcare data gives China the upper hand when it comes to developing drugs and medical treatments. Eventually they can outpace the U.S. in the biotech field, which will force the U.S. to rely on them, leading to a transfer of wealth, both economically and technologically.