WEST PALM BEACH – Someone’s DNA holds their most private information, and a Florida law that prohibits surreptitious DNA collection is designed to protect individual privacy, according to a professor who studies medicine and the law.
Marshall Kapp, director of Florida State University’s Center for Innovative Collaboration in Medicine and Law, said Florida’s DNA privacy law, which requires informed consent for the collection, testing and release of DNA information, recognizes that people have a strong interest in who has access to their genetic information.
“The usual context in which informed consent issues come up is the doctor-patient context,” Kapp told the Florida Record. “When we think of informed consent, we tend to think of it in the medical context, but the statute here intends to protect the privacy of individuals. It's really about the privacy of personal information and the belief that your DNA really has the deepest secrets about you as a person, about who you are, and that the individual has an interest and a right in protecting their personal identity from unconsented to intrusion by others.”
The law is at the center of the latest developments in a defamation lawsuit filed by a Canadian businessman against the former CEO of Marvel Entertainment and his wife. Earlier this month, a Palm Beach Circuit Court judge ruled that Harold Peerenboom, a wealthy Canadian businessman, illegally collected DNA samples from Isaac Perlmutter and his wife, Laura.
Judge Meena Sasser ruled that Peerenboom acted fraudulently when he collected DNA samples from water bottles used by the couple after a deposition and then had the samples tested without the pair’s consent. Florida law requires the knowledge and consent of someone to have their DNA tested and have those results releases, with certain exceptions, including criminal cases and paternity cases.
There are a number of reasons the law is in place, Kapp said, including to protect people from discrimination.
“There's the possibility that it information in your DNA became known to others, you could become the victim of discrimination in employment, insurance coverage, housing, educational opportunities,” he said. “Even though we have laws that prohibit those kinds of discrimination, the reality is that discrimination does occur.”
There are also fundamental privacy reasons for the law, he said.
“Beyond that, there's also just the concern that people own the information about themselves, the most basic information about themselves,” he said. “There's something about DNA that really makes it especially important and sensitive in terms of the information it contains about who I am as a person. So even if you put aside the discrimination possibilities, we would still want to protect the privacy - the personhood, if you will - of persons from unwanted intrusion.”
The drama-filled case began in 2007, when Peerenboom claimed Isaac Perlmutter became angry after Peerenboom wanted to hold a competitive bid for a tennis instructor position at the Palm Beach complex where both men live. Peerenboom has accused the Perlmutters of sending unsigned letters to Peerenboom’s neighbors, friends and business associates accusing him of the sexual assault of an 11-year-old girl and of murder.
The Perlmutters have denied any involvement with the letters. The judge’s ruling excluded the DNA evidence, but she did not dismiss the defamation suit.