UK: Covid test firm ‘to sell swabs carrying customers’ DNA’

Cignpost Diagnostics, a government-approved supplier, prompts investigation over sharing of sensitive medical data with third parties

ByMax Stephens14 November 2021 • 3:43pm


A leading Covid-19 testing firm is planning to sell swabs containing customer’s DNA, prompting an investigation from the UK’s data privacy watchdog. Cignpost Diagnostics, a government-approved supplier trading as Express Test, said it will analyse samples to sell the information to third parties, company documents have revealed. The company claimed it will also use the medical data to "learn more about human health" and develop new drugs and products, the Sunday Times reported. Explicit informed consent. Customers booking tests through the Express Test website were not clearly told their data would be used for purposes beyond Covid-19 testing, the paper alleged.

Instead, they were reportedly asked to tick a box agreeing to a 4,876-word privacy policy, which links to another document outlining its "research programme".

Typically, analysis of sensitive medical information can only be carried out with explicit informed consent.

Cignpost diagnostics, which has 71 walk-in locations across the UK, is reported to have delivered up to three million tests since June last year.

The company charges between £35 and £120 for a PCR test and is estimated to have generated tens of millions of pounds from test fees alone.

Its "research programme information sheet", last updated on October 21, says the company retains data including "biological samples" and "the DNA obtained from such samples", as well as "genetic information derived from processing your DNA sample ... using various technologies such as genotyping and whole or partial genome sequencing".

The policy also says Cignpost may share customers’ DNA samples and other personal information with "collaborators" working with them or independently, including universities and private companies, and that it "may receive compensation" in return.

It is unclear how many samples have been stored by Cignpost or whether they have been sold or used for any research so far, but the policy says that data belonging to all those providing a swab is retained indefinitely. Last week, Cignpost removed references to its research programme from its privacy policy after evidence of its activities was passed to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) and the Human Tissue Authority. The ICO has confirmed it is investigating the issue.

In response to the claims from the Sunday Times, Cignpost said "it is in full compliance with all laws related to data privacy", adding: "We have invested significantly in robust systems and processes to ensure we protect our customers. Because we are testing our customers for a potentially serious condition, protecting that data is paramount for our organisation." Cignpost has been approached for comment.

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2021/11/14/covid-test-firm-sell-swabs-carrying-customers-dna/?utm_content=telegraph&utm_medium=Social&utm_campaign=Echobox&utm_source=Twitter#Echobox=1636905077-1