Kuwait's Gattaca and the fall of our privacy

Gattaca revisited

Remember the movie Gattaca? A quite distinct dystopian vision of a world ruled by information stored in our DNA. This very vision could become a reality just as we speak, right before our eyes.

Our genetic privacy is threatened in a way we woudn’t have dared to imagine.  Kuwait is the first country in the world which plans to introduce compulsory DNA testing for every citizen, tourist and even a scientist traveling through the country. This entails that even a short stay in Kuwait will call for a mandatory sampling of our genetic material. This DNA sample will then be placed in a supposedly secure national database. (well, even the most secure and best guarded databases, sometimes leak …).

It doesn’t take an overtly vivid imagination to consider the implication of these proceedings. For the citizens of Kuwait, for tourists, for scientists, for the whole world.

This is nothing less than our freedom at stake.

The international scientific community has called on the Kuwaiti authorities to refrain from any actions that violate this significant freedom of its citizens. Geneticists from around the world, including those belonging to the European Society of Human Geneticists (ESHG – an association whose authors are members) published on its website a call to arms against Kuwait. A plea to refrain from putting their plans into effect.

To read the whole press release, please see below.

(This article was originally published by Facts and Myths of Genetics on their Facebook page: Facts and myths of genetics )

“There is no gene for fate” – Vincent, Gattaca

Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

ESHG Statement and Press release on the New Kuwaiti law on the collection of human DNA

New Kuwaiti law will severely affect international collaborations

Following  a terrorist attack, the Kuwait Government introduced a law mandating compulsory collection of DNA samples from its entire population (citizens, legal, and illegal residents), as well as foreign visitors. The law will also apply to tourists and visiting scientists, and will impose a one year

prison term and a fine on those who refuse to provide samples. This makes Kuwait the first country in the world to legislate for the mandatory collection of human DNA samples. Several important organisations have opposed this law and called upon the Kuwait government to amend it[i].

The President of the European Society of Human Genetics and the chair of the Professional and Public Policy Committee have sent a letter dated 31 August 2016 to His Highness Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah and to The Council of Ministers of the State of Kuwait asking them to reconsider this law and to amend it so that human DNA is collected for legal purposes only from individuals suspected of having committed serious crimes. This would be in line with The European Convention on Human Rights, which in ARTICLE 8 on the Right to respect for private and family life states that:

1. Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence.

2. There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

As the professional organisation bringing together human geneticists across Europe we are in agreement with the UN Human Rights Committee that such a law is disproportionate and violates the right to privacy. We understand that the current government is building the collection of human DNA samples for the protection of the Kuwaiti citizens. However, the simple existence of such a resource could be dangerous in the future, for example, if hacked or in the event of a régime change.

Fears voiced in the media and elsewhere include the possibility of discrimination based on the attribution of ancestry, whether correct or wrongful. While many countries consider that a child’s rights are determined by the country of birth, fears are that DNA testing might lead to exclusion of persons not considered belonging to the country.

An additional concern is the potential effect of the compulsory testing of all visitors, including scientists. We believe that this is likely to lead to the isolation of Kuwaiti research institutions, as visiting scientists may refuse to give samples and therefore will not attend valuable scientific conferences in Kuwait, for example. We consider that the global challenges in human health and demography can best be addressed by all industrialised countries in a collaborative way. We see this new law as a major threat to joint actions in the field of genomic health that involve national European genetic societies.

[i] U.N. rights panel urges Kuwait to amend broad DNA testing law http://www.reuters.com/article/us-kuwait-security-un-idUSKCN0ZV1VY

GeneWatch UK PR: Expansions of police DNA databases worldwide urgently need human rights safeguards