Brittany Bell ‘18 Garners Media Attention for Research on Genetic Data Collection

Long before Facebook faced backlash over unauthorized use of its users’ data, Brittany Bell ’18 was exploring privacy issues related to the collection and use of personal genetic information by companies such as and Fitbit. When she learned that genetic information collected by these companies did not enjoy the same protection under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) as do medical records gathered by doctors she decided to focus on this topic for her upperclass writing requirement.

“It started when I was talking to a professor about HIPAA and how it determines how and when companies and doctors can turn over or sell our health records,” Bell told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in a recent story. The faculty member who sparked her interest was former Brooklyn Law School Professor Alex Stein, who was appointed to the Israeli Supreme Court this spring. “I was thinking about that at the same time a friend was talking about their Fitbit and it started to creep me out because Fitbit wouldn’t be an entity covered under HIPAA.”

In examining existing privacy laws, Bell, who will join Schulte, Roth & Zabel LLP as an associate in the fall, was shocked to learn there are very few laws in place regulating these new technologies, despite the real dangers of such data being sold to third-parties, turned over to investigators, or hacked.

“You can change your hobbies, you can even change your hair color, but you cannot change your DNA,” she said, adding that she hopes her research might raise awareness of the issue and urge consumers to call for greater regulation.

Read more: Brooklyn Law School graduate does research on growing trend of genetic data collection.