Kuwait is the first country to introduce mandatory DNA registration. This will apply to all citizens and residents, but also to anyone visiting the kingdom for a short period of time. The government says that these measures are to fight crime and prevent terrorism. The authorities have attempted to reassure Kuwaitis (and potential visitors) that the procedure only requires a few drops of blood or a saliva swab. However those who do not conform could be fined $33,000 or imprisoned for a year. In addition anyone who provides a false sample could be imprisoned for up to 7 years. The law passed in July 2015 is set to go into effect this year.
The Kuwaiti government defends this move as being necessary to fight terrorism, and it is at least plausible that it would aid in this. The power of DNA testing in establishing that someone was in physical contact with an object or present in a location are well known. A database which allowed any samples to be checked against everyone known to be in the country would be a powerful tool for national crime agencies and security services. Furthermore if several countries embarked on this course it might be rapidly possible to solve many more crimes rapidly through transnational collaboration between different agencies, a boon given the transnational nature of many criminal organizations.
However many are likely to consider this an invasion of privacy of Orwellian proportions, with the possibility of the database being misused an unacceptable price to pay for its creation. Personal information such as genealogy, medical conditions, longevity, and even character traits and behaviours can all be inferred with varying degrees of accuracy from a DNA profile. Furthermore the volume and accuracy of information that can be extracted from a DNA sample is only going to increase as the science and technology of genomics improves. Is it safe to trust governments with such intimate and extensive private information about all their citizens? If it is, what safeguards need to be in place for this to happen? Will this galvanize other governments to follow suit, thereby by increasing the likelihood of misuse? And even if governments can be trusted, what of private actors in whose hands it could end up? Marketers, employers, insurance companies, advertisers and a host of other organizations all stand to gain from access to this valuable information- and history suggests that civil servants and government officials cannot be relied upon to protect the confidential data of its citizens.
Image credit: Khaleel Hadar / Flickr
Kuwait Times (January 23, 2016) Kuwait set to enforce DNA testing law on all – Officials reassure tests won’t be used to determine genealogy
Science Alert (July 13, 2016) Kuwait has become the first country to make DNA testing mandatory for all residents
Science Alert (May 3, 2016) You'll soon have to hand over your DNA if you want to visit Kuwait