In a bold and controversial move, Kuwait has just passed a new law that makes it mandatory to register your DNA with the government. Starting soon, the 1.3 million citizens and 2.9 million foreign residents of Kuwait will have to enter their individual DNA profiles into a government database. Since the program is being mandated, the government of Kuwait will spend the equivalent of about $400 million to subsidize the DNA testing and management. Refusal to comply or DNA tampering could result in fines as high as $33,000, and even time in prison.
The local government says the decision is a result of the suicide bombing orchestrated by the Islamic State in Kuwait City last June, killing 26 people and wounding at least 227. The hope is that capitalizing on the availability of DNA technology in today’s market will help deter criminal acts in the future, as well as expedite arrests and investigations when incidents do occur. “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,” said Jamal al-Omar, an independent MP.
Genetic testing is becoming increasingly popular these days, for everyone from scientific researchers and government agencies to interested civilians and ancestry hobbyists. But the widespread availability of DNA mapping resources has also raised concerns from experts wary of the slippery ethical slope from genetic science to discriminatory eugenics. Creating a nation-wide database raises further concerns from privacy advocates and supporters of basic democratic principles.
That specific challenge to democracy was shot down in a similar case in the EU in 2008, when the European Court of Human Rights ruled that creating a non-criminal DNA database would be both unnecessary and illegal. It is true that DNA databases are becoming increasingly popular, but genetic entries are usually provided by consenting volunteers, arrested citizens acquitted of their charges, the families of missing persons, and the deceased. Even with the presumed goal of keeping citizens safe, Kuwait’s move to make DNA registration mandatory is already receiving considerable pushback from the international community.