The Latest In The 'Collect It All' Collection: An Entire Nation's DNA
from the adding-more-hay dept
Kuwait’s parliament, reacting to a suicide bombing last week that killed 26 people, adopted a law Wednesday requiring mandatory DNA testing on all the country’s citizens and foreign residents.
The legislation, requested by the government to help security agencies make quicker arrests in criminal cases, calls on the interior ministry to establish a database on all 1.3 million citizens and 2.9 million foreign residents.
Kuwait seems to be pretty serious about implementing this scheme. Refuse to give samples? That will cost you $33,000 and a year in jail. Try to pass off someone else’s DNA as your own? Make that seven years in jail. Setting up the DNA database won’t be cheap, but an extra $400 million has been allocated by Kuwait’s parliament:
“We have approved the DNA testing law and approved the additional funding. We are prepared to approve anything needed to boost security measures in the country,” independent MP Jamal al-Omar said.
Following the high death toll in the suicide bombing, there is a natural desire to do something to stop it happening again, and to help catch those behind it. But the move to collect everyone’s DNA seems to be born mostly from an opportunistic government desire to exploit tragic events to bring in extreme laws without much resistance.
After all, how exactly will having everyone’s DNA in a database prevent future suicide bombings? Yes, it might help with the rapid identification of the bomber(s) and victims. That’s useful, but hardly justifies an unprecedented collection of everyone’s DNA. And it may help resolve other crimes, particularly rape, which will be welcomed by the victims. But if DNA becomes a standard tool in everyday criminal cases, having everyone’s DNA may actually hinder investigations because of false positives. We are all shedding DNA everywhere we go, so the presence of somebody’s genetic material at the scene of a crime probably means nothing (and could even be an attempt to frame someone, which becomes much easier.) But it will require the police to eliminate all those genetic bystanders, which is likely to slow down the investigation.
In this respect, it’s the classic needle-in-a-haystack data problem, but applied to the world of genomes. Just as adding more hay does not help you find those proverbial needles, so increasing the size of the DNA database to encompass the entire population does not generally make it easier to find the perpetrator of a crime. In fact, smaller, more selective DNA databases are more sensible, just as targeted surveillance is more effective. With luck, Kuwait’s future discovery of this fact, and its failure to draw much benefit from this massive intrusion into the most personal sphere of all — the genome — will make other governments think twice before following suit.
Well, I can dream, can’t I?