Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Major League Baseball's Privacy Issue

For years, baseball has had a huge problem that no one wanted to deal with.
No, I'm not talking about steroids. I'm talking about identity and age falsification by Latin American prospects.
Well baseball decided to hit back by using genetic testing of young players and their parents as a way to determine correct ages and identities. As you can imagine, privacy advocates (and Human Resources professionals) had bells go off in their heads when they heard this. Via the New York Times:
Many experts in genetics consider such testing a violation of personal privacy. Federal legislation, signed into law last year and scheduled to take effect Nov. 21, prohibits companies based in the United States from asking an employee, a potential employee or a family member of an employee for a sample of their DNA.

Dozens of Latin American prospects in recent years have been caught purporting to be younger than they actually were as a way to make themselves more enticing to major league teams. Last week the Yankees voided the signing of an amateur from the Dominican Republic after a DNA test conducted by Major League Baseball’s department of investigations showed that the player had misrepresented his identity.

Some players have also had bone scans to be used in determining age range...

While determining age is the primary motivation for baseball’s testing, some experts and at least one scout raised the prospect that the DNA results could be used to try to predict players’ medical future.

Baseball’s use of DNA information alarmed experts in genetics and bioethics, who said this may be the first instance of such an arrangement since the federal bill, known as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, was passed last year.

“DNA contains a host of information about risks for future diseases that prospective employers might be interested in discovering and considering,” said Kathy Hudson, the director of the Genetics and Public Policy Center and an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University. “The point of GINA was to remove the temptation and prohibit employers from asking or receiving genetic information.”

Baseball has had a history of being legally exempt from certain laws such as antitrust regulation. This is another example of them overstepping their bounds quite a bit. And as Human Resources professionals, this should have set off some alarm bells in your heard, even before Congress passed the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

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