GeneWatch UK, the Council for Responsible Genetics (CRG) and Privacy International (PI) have just revealed new details about commercial pressures to expand forensic DNA databases around the globe.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced in 2009 plans to create a DNA database of all residents — not just citizens — starting with children. However, the three public-interest groups have pulled together much more information about the project. For one thing, it dates back at least to January 2006, when the UK's Prince Andrew witnessed the signing of an initial million-pound-plus contract between the UAE and Britain's Forensic Science Service (FSS). Eight subsequent contracts were just revealed, of unknown value. The human-rights activists are calling for them to be cancelled.
Whose idea this was remains vague. It's noteworthy that then-Prime Minister Blair in 2006 publicly endorsed the idea of whole-population databases, which have since been ruled illegal by the European Court of Human Rights. Did Blair and his ministers sell the idea to the UAE? The royal family denies any responsibility (the prince was an innocent witness), as does the FSS ("We are just involved in the science"). However, the FSS became a commercial venture — a government-owned company — in December 2005. And Dr Helen Wallace of Genewatch UK tartly notes that
Scientists and royals both have responsibility for human rights.
Some people seem to find the human rights problems of universal databases hard to grasp. Here's an example that should give anyone pause: Adultery is a criminal offence in UAE; the penalty can be flogging or even stoning to death. A universal database would instantly prove both paternity and non-paternity.
The person in charge of the UAE database insists that they won't look at paternity data, or examine genetic traits, which he calls "the responsibility of hospitals." But the temptation will always be there, and ultimately abuse of that knowledge seems almost inevitable.
The investigation also revealed that the American company Gordon Thomas Honeywell has made presentations in at least six countries in the last 18 months, promoting forensic DNA databases. Their sponsor is Life Technologies, which has a product line called "Human Identification and Forensic DNA."
US public officials are involved, too: Denver District Attorney Mitchell R. Morrissey and other police experts travelled to Abu Dhabi last fall to brief the UAE crime lab. To which CRG President Jeremy Gruber responds:
Americans should be outraged that our elected officials are traveling to non-democratic countries and advising them on setting up DNA databases that would be clearly illegal in our own country.
Politicians often try to exploit fear of crime for votes. Companies and quasi-commercial entities try to exploit that for cash. Many thanks are due to GeneWatch UK, the Council for Responsible Genetics and Privacy International for maintaining a database of the databases, and drawing public attention to the murky realities behind them
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
Posted in Biotech & Pharma, Civil Society, DNA Forensics, Human Rights, Other Countries, Pete Shanks's Blog Posts, The United Kingdom, US Federal
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