Considering the ever growing terror threats in today’s world, would you allow your government to start collecting DNA samples of the entire population? Well, Kuwait has already started its campaign of storing DNA samples of not just the 3.5 million population, but also any visitor entering the country. This highly controversial measure has prompted a local lawyer to file a formal constitutional challenge against the mandatory DNA collecting measure. These efforts are to begin in a matter of months in Kuwait, and rest assured that your lawmakers have been thinking about similar actions. However, the question is would you mandate such a move, and is it for the better good or does it violate the precious individual privacy that is deteriorating as the intelligent world around us gathers more and more data?
The law in Kuwait requires DNA samples from all its citizens and foreigners living in the country. This also includes anyone who decides the small Gulf country that was the subject of a major international conflict in the early 1990s known as the Persian Gulf War. The Kuwaiti Parliament lost no time and passed the law, especially with haunting memories of a July 2015 terror attack in the country’s capital that resulted in 30 people losing their lives. Advocates argue having a major database storing the DNA sample of every single person in the country would make the work of law enforcement entities easier in both identifying terror attack victims and possibly hunting down the suspects.
This unprecedented measure in Kuwait has also received widespread criticism as an insufficient method to tackle terrorism, and also a major privacy stoking issue. What if such a database was hacked or stolen altogether? Despite all the controversy, the government of Kuwait has imposed a punishment of serving prison time, or a fine close to about $33,000, for anyone who fails to comply, as reported by the Kuwait Times.
Forcing every single citizen and resident to provide their DNA samples to their government, and even visitors to the governments of their host countries, has been characterized as entering a house for a police search without obtaining a warrant from a judge. Rights activists agree and argue a human body is far more sacred and precious than a house.
Things get even more heated in Islamic countries where adultery is considered illegal and you could serve time behind bars or be ordered to pay a major fine for it. Authorities may use our DNA sample as a blunt weapon to determine, for example, your paternity. Newspapers in Kuwait have already reported that as a result of the new law people are actually rushing to sell their houses and are leaving the country in a frenzy to avoid the DNA collection campaign before it begins in November of this year.
Rights activists are also concerned of the hundreds of thousands of stateless individuals in Kuwait, known as “Bedoons,” and the poor people in this country. This can, and most probably will, cause a further wedge between various sectors of society in this highly conservative Arab country.
In the United States, for example, law enforcement is authorized to collect the DNA of apprehended individuals. This notion was upheld in a landmark Supreme Court 5-4 ruling back in 2013 in the Maryland v. King case. One judge, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, made a strong case against his majority colleagues saying the forefathers of America’s civil liberties would have never agreed to such violation of their privacy.
The People v. Buza case, still pending in the California supreme court, was first ruled by a lower court in 2014 that a law in California demanding DNA samples from any individual arrested on the suspicion of any felons was in violation of the state constitution, citing the explicit explanation of “privacy” as an undeniably “inalienable right.”
Therefore, this highly sensitive discussion about respecting privacy as the technological world continues to advance will go on at least in our lifetime. This is only one aspect of the entire debate, and rest assured more concepts will be raised because technology will advance, and the thirst for data will never quench. And yet the privacy of an individual is a God given right that simply cannot go avoided or be neglected.