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Kuwait set to collect DNA
July 13, 2016, 8:24 am
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Kuwait will start implementing the law requiring all citizens, expatriates and visitors to submit DNA samples later this summer, reports Alternet quoting Kuwaiti officials.

According to the report published Monday on the website of Alternet, the DNA samples of at least 3.3 million people will be stored in the government’s database which costs around $400 million. This makes Kuwait the first country in the world to legislate mandatory collection of DNA samples.

However, international privacy and legal analysts have expressed concern over the mandate. Social Science Professor at King’s College London and an expert in bioethics and genetics Barbara Prainsack pointed out, “No other country in the world wants to include everyone.

This is a very significant step that has never been taken before.” Almost everywhere else in the world, those who aren’t suspected criminals, terrorists or government employees are generally excepted from biometric data collection of this nature. Such indiscriminate collection violates the international standards for privacy established by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Kuwait ratified.

The covenant requires DNA databases to be extensively regulated and proportionately narrow in scope. Several human rights advocates argued the Kuwaiti authorities have not clarified how they plan to implement the DNA database.

The law forbids refusing or falsifying one’s DNA sample, but safeguards about how individual samples will be shared, stored and processed have not been made public. “The law says that for anyone working with DNA improperly there will be criminal fines and potential prosecution,”

Belkis Wille, Human Rights Watch’s Kuwait researcher, explained. “But that doesn’t get at the heart of the bigger issues, which are who gets access to the data and why. Judicial oversight is also currently not in the law as it been written.”

In response to a May 2015 ISIS suicide bombing in the country’s capital, the Kuwait National Assembly passed the mandatory DNA collection legislation as a counterterrorism measure that June. Kuwaiti officials were quoted as saying that the database would not only solve crimes more quickly in the case of terrorist acts, but also help to identify bodies in natural disasters. Kuwaiti officials also confirmed that the database would be “at par” with those in the US and the UK.

If all goes as planned, they may even exceed the FBI’s capacious precedent. Nevertheless, genetic experts, researchers and civil rights advocates fear that the government might expand the uses of the database beyond its original purpose. In response to fears that the database might be used to reveal sensitive information about health or paternity, senior officials said “the test is not done to diagnose any disease or obtain medical information because such information is part of individuals’ privacy and the law bans access to it.”

Wafa Ben Hassine, a legal analyst and former fellow with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the information revealed by DNA could further be “used to discriminate against people who are non-citizens.” In particular, human rights advocates fear that the database could be used to exclude the country’s stateless Bedoun population, which numbers around 100,000. — www.alternet.org

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