Feds Go After Artist Critical of Biotechnology

The FBI is using the Patriot Act to go after an artist whose work calls into question the safety and morality of genetic modification of crops and other uses of biotechnology. Steve Kurtz — an art professor at the University at Buffalo and cofounder of an artists’ collective that creates works using bacteria and DNA, among other materials — called 911 last month after his wife suffered apparent heart failure, which proved fatal. Police and emergency workers who responded to the call were suspicious when they saw lab equipment at Kurtz’s house, so they notified the FBI, which swooped in, sealed off the home for days, confiscated a computer, equipment, and papers, detained Kurtz for questioning, and subpoenaed three of his colleagues. Authorities determined that Kurtz’s home contained no toxic materials and posed no public health threat, but still a federal grand jury will convene on June 15 to look into Kurtz’s “possession of biological agents.” Artists and civil-rights advocates say it’s a chilling, even McCarthy-esque abuse of federal power.