I will talk about Genomic Privacy in general and then in relation to a
specific application of RNA-seq data. In general, with every new
exciting development in genomics come the often
under-appreciated ethical, legal and social concerns. Particularly with
regard to issues of privacy, there are tradeoffs as the
technology continues to develop and the real-life applications of
genomics become more of a reality. Numerous technical solutions have
been proposed, but every technical safeguard is accompanied by
increased complications with analyzing and manipulating datasets.
Moreover, technical solutions invite both white-hat and black-hat
efforts of circumvention, making them less useful in the long-run.
I propose a multi-prong approach to dealing with privacy
issues in genomics that includes technical, regulatory and social
advances that will create an environment that both safeguards privacy,
prevents harms associated with a lack of privacy and promotes
innovation in the fields of genomics and medicine.
To illustrate the complex aspects of privacy, I go through two case
studies that inter-relate RNA-seq data (and functional genomics data,
in general) with variants. On one hand, scientists can use these data
to generate general conclusions; on the other hand it is interesting
and worthwhile to relate it to genetic variants. I go over some
aspects of private information leakage in dealing with RNA-seq,
particularly related to eQTLs. Then I describe aspects of RNA-seq
calculations that cannot be abstracted from variants -- particularly,
those related to allele-specific expression.