GeneWatch UK today revealed that the UK Forensic Science Service (FSS) is helping the United Arab Emirates to build a DNA database of its entire population, linked to a national identity card scheme (1). The scheme - a legacy of Tony Blair's government - would allow the Emirates to track every citizen and expatriate and their relatives, including the whereabouts of dissidents, raising serious concerns about human rights (2). 'Familial searching' of the DNA database, which allows non-paternity to be identified, could also be extremely dangerous for women in the country, where adultery is a criminal offence (3).
Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, was photographed at the signing of the first contract between the FSS and UAE in January 2006, in his capacity as the United Kingdom's special representative for foreign trade and investment (1). Jack Straw, responsible for introducing the controversial law allowing innocent people's DNA records to be kept on Britain's DNA database, was Foreign Secretary. In October 2006, whilst visiting the FSS, Tony Blair, then UK Prime Minister, publicly endorsed the idea of a universal DNA database in Britain (4). A recent parliamentary question confirms that the FSS has ongoing contracts to help build UAE's DNA database, although the UK Coalition Government has announced it will be winding up the Government-owned company, which is making substantial financial losses (1).
"A universal DNA database would allow the Emirates to track every citizen and identify their relatives: a frightening prospect for dissidents and women" said Dr Helen Wallace, Director of GeneWatch UK. "It is shameful that a UK Government-owned company is helping to build this system of surveillance. The Coalition Government should act now to scrap this dangerous legacy of Blair's database obsession".
In 2010, the Abu Dhabi police were given training on familial searching by Mitchell R. Morrissey, District Attorney of Denver Colorado, USA (1). Familial searching of DNA databases can reveal non-paternity, which is a particularly serious concern because adultery is a criminal offence in UAE and women can be punished for reporting rape (5).
"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. It is particularly appalling when such databases can be used to discriminate against and outright punish women if non-paternity is identified," said Jeremy Gruber, President of the Council for Responsible Genetics.
Today's information was revealed as part of a joint project between GeneWatch UK, the Council for Responsible Genetics (USA) and Privacy International, which aims to document the expansion of DNA databases around the world and to secure safeguards for privacy and human rights (6).
"The UK Government is playing a most dangerous game with people's privacy and rights. The trade in surveillance systems is just as dangerous as the arms trade, except we know that surveillance technologies are being applied against a country's own citizens. There is an urgent need for international safeguards as governments and companies lobby to expand DNA databases across the globe," said Gus Hosein, Director of Privacy International.
Plans to build universal DNA databases have also been announced by the British Overseas Territory of Bermuda and by Uzbekistan (7). Prince Andrew made the announcement in Bermuda in 2005. International guidelines which would have required DNA data collected from innocent people to be destroyed at the end of the investigation were watered down following lobbying by the UK in 2003, when it was in the process of expanding its own database to include more than one million innocent people (8).
More recent proposals to create new DNA databases have been made by the US lobbying firm Gordon Thomas Honeywell, which made presentations in Thailand, Brazil, Brunei, Bahrain, (South) Korea and Malaysia on behalf of its clients in 2009 and 2010 (9). Some of these presentations make highly misleading claims about the role of the UK DNA database in solving rapes. Many US states are currently expanding their collection of DNA from individuals, despite evidence from the UK and California that widening the net of individuals with records on a DNA database is not an effective way to solve more crimes compared to examining more crime scenes (10). California's DNA database law is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union in the US courts (11).
The new UK Coalition Government recently introduced plans to remove innocent people arrested in England and Wales from Britain's DNA database, in its new Protection of Freedoms Bill (12). The proposals are similar to the law adopted in Scotland in 2006, when the Scottish Parliament rejected lobbying by Blair's Government to expand its database. In December 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that the indefinite retention of DNA from innocent people by the UK Government breached the European Convention on Human Rights.
The UK and US databases are the largest in the world containing 6 million and more than 9 million individuals' DNA profiles respectively (13). Fifty six countries currently have DNA databases and safeguards vary considerably from country to country. At least twenty six more countries plan new DNA databases.
For further information contact:
Dr Helen Wallace (GeneWatch UK): +44-1298-24300 (office); +44-7903-311584 (mobile).
Jeremy Gruber (Council for Responsible Genetics, USA): +1-609-610-1602.
Gus Hosein (Privacy International): +44-7970-462041 (mobile).
Notes for Editors
(1) Relevant documents, including a photograph of Prince Andrew at the signing of the contract in 2006, are available on: http://www.genewatch.org/sub-566821
UAE is a Federation of seven absolute monarchies, which has so far been untouched by the wave of protests sweeping across the Middle East: http://www.trust.org/alertnet/news/factbox-key-political-risks-to-watch-in-united-arab-emirates
(2) In January, Human Rights Watch singled out UAE for criticism regarding its treatment of dissidents: http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2011/01/26/uae-stepped-harassment-rights-defenders . A GeneWatch UK briefing on DNA databases and human rights is available on:(3) UAE court orders girl, 15, flogged for adultery. ABC News. 17th August 2003.
Human Rights Watch reports the situation in 2010 on: http://www.hrw.org/en/world-report-2011/united-arab-emirates
(4) DNA database 'should include all'. The Telegraph. 24th October 2006 http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1532210/DNA-database-should-include-all.html
(5) The British Academy of Forensic Sciences has argued that familial searching of the UK DNA database "should not be undertaken lightly" because of the significant psychological implications of revealing non-paternity. On: http://www.bafs.org.uk/cgi-bin/dispatch.cgi/communication/consultations/bioinformation . Use of familial searching in the UK is restricted by an Association of Chief Police Officers Code of Practice. The implications of revealing non-paternity in UAE would be very serious for women, see note (3).
(6) A map of existing DNA databases, linked to the laws that have been adopted is available on the CRG website at: http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/dnadata/index_low.html
Further country-by-country resources, including press articles describing plans to build new databases or expand existing ones are on the GeneWatch UK website at: http://www.genewatch.org/sub-566699
(7) Information about DNA in Bermuda is on: http://www.genewatch.org/sub-566855
Information about DNA in Uzbekistan is on: http://www.genewatch.org/sub-566903
(8) Article 23 of the UNESCO International Declaration on Human Genetic Data 2003 was watered down to state:"Human genetic data, human proteomic data and the biological samples collected from a suspect in the course of a criminal investigation should be destroyed when they are no longer necessary, unless otherwise provided for by domestic law consistent with the international law of human rights". [Emphasis added]. On: http://www.unesco.org/new/en/social-and-human-sciences/themes/bioethics/human-genetic-data/
Human Genetics Commission (HGC) minutes 7th May 2003 (Paragraphs 3.3 and 3.4): http://www.hgc.gov.uk/UploadDocs/Contents/Documents/12th%20HGC%20Plenary,%20Final%20Minutes,%20May%202003.doc Crime writer Alexander McCall Smith (then Vice-Chair of the HGC) was part of the UK delegation in the negotiations: he was criticised by other committee members for representing the UK Government's position (which was at odds with that of its advisory body, the HGC).
(9) Recent presentations by Gordon Thomas Honeywell are on: http://www.dnaresource.com/documents-recentpresentations.html . Their sponsor is Life Technologies, a US company which includes the DNA testing arm Applied Biosciences: http://www.dnaresource.com/sponsor.html
Gordon Thomas Honeywell's presentation in Brazil claims that 5,000 stranger rapes occur in the UK with no evidence except for DNA at the crime scene, that 3,000 of these rapes are solved using the DNA database and that without it none of them would be: http://www.dnaresource.com/documents/BRAZILBrasiliaJuly2010%282%29.pdf . In fact, only 168 rape prosecutions in England and Wales involved DNA matches in 2008/09 (less than 1% of recorded rapes): most of these would not be stranger rapes and would therefore not require the DNA database for the suspect to be identified. No data is available on the number of successful prosecutions.
Source: Home Office figures analysed in GeneWatch's 2010 briefing available on: http://www.genewatch.org/uploads/f03c6d66a9b354535738483c1c3d49e4/GWsub_Jan10.doc
UK Crown Prosecution Service guidance requires additional evidence beyond a DNA match because of the danger of false matches: it is also not correct to say that stranger rapes are never solved without a DNA database.
(10) Rand Corporation study 2010: http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/technical_reports/2010/RAND_TR918.pdf
(11) ACLU Press Release 7th October 2009: http://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/aclu-lawsuit-challenges-california-s-mandatory-dna-collection-arrest
(12) Further information is available on: http://www.genewatch.org/sub-566498
(13) UK figures from: http://www.publicservice.co.uk/news_story.asp?id=15673 . The six million profiles include more than 1 million from innocent people. US figures from: http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/lab/codis/ndis-statistics . Although described as DNA profiles from 'offenders', since 2006 the US national DNA database allows profiles to be uploaded from people who are arrested but not convicted. Whether DNA is collected routinely on arrest varies state by state. A summary of US legislation at national and state level is available on the CRG website: http://www.councilforresponsiblegenetics.org/dnadata/usa/usa2.html .