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You'll soon have to hand over your DNA if you want to visit Kuwait

Nah, I'm good.

FIONA MACDONALD
3 MAY 2016
 

Kuwait has announced that, this year, it'll become the first nation in the world to make it mandatory for anyone visiting or living in the country to submit their DNA to authorities for testing.

The results will be used "to fight crime and terrorism", and the country definitely won't be testing for lineage or medical factors, according to the government. "Privacy is undoubtedly the main concern," a senior official at the Interior Ministry's Department of Criminal Evidence told The Kuwait Times.

 

According to earlier reports, anyone who refuses testing will face a US$33,000 fine, or up to a year in prison.

The move is an attempt to beef up security, following a devastating suicide bombing attack in June last year, which killed more than 26 people and wounded 227 others.

After being approved last year, the law will now be rolled out later this year, according to ministry officials.

Logistically, that's a pretty big undertaking, and requires the 1.3 million citizens and 2.9 million foreign residents currently living in the Middle Eastern country to have their DNA collected by mobile centres around the country, or by officials when they next renew their visa.

At the same time, any visitors will submit either a saliva test or a few drops of blood at the international airport on their way in. Which is definitely one way to make tourists feel welcome.

From these saliva or blood cells, technicians will then anonymously sequence each individual's unique DNA code and upload it to a secure database, so that it can be matched against any genetic evidence found at crime scenes, or used to identify someone's remains if they're involved in a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

 

While countries such as the US, Australia, the UK, and Sweden all keep similar databases, those governments only collect DNA from convicted criminals. This will be the first time anywhere in the world that a law has made a DNA database mandatory for everyone visiting or living in a country.

And it's just a little controversial. In the European Union, such a database was declared illegal by the European Court of Human Rights in 2008, which said that keeping a non-criminal's DNA sample "could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society".

The main argument against collecting people's DNA is how this information could be used in the future. "If it's not regulated and the police can do whatever they want ... they can use your DNA to infer things about your health, your ancestry, whether your kids are your kids," genetic researcher Yaniv Erlich from MIT in the US told the Associated Press back in 2013.

To be fair, for all intents and purposes, Kuwait's database will be regulated. According to officials, the new law specifies that the DNA results won't be used to look for any medical information - "the mandatory DNA tests only target non-encrypted genes that are not affected by diseases" - and no lineage testing is allowed.

Several clauses have also been added to the law, forbidding workers from sharing information about the DNA database they might come across in their jobs, and there's also a hefty punishment of up to seven years in prison for anyone who fakes or edits DNA information.

"It is our duty to protect the privacy of each and every citizen and resident taking into consideration that the DNA law highlighted this," the ministry official told The Kuwait Times.

That's all good, but the reality is that a database containing all the DNA records of everyone living in or visiting Kuwait will soon exist, and as we all know, despite our best intentions, nothing is as secure as we'd like to believe it is.

All we can say is, someone better figure out quantum cryptography, asap. 

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