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UAE plans DNA database of entire population

October 7, 2009

Police in the United Kingdom have recently been forced by the European Court of Human Rights to scale back their increasingly large National DNA Database (NDNAD), which previously potentially included DNA profiles of anyone arrested by the police, whether charged with any offence or not. This at least shows that there is some recourse to law and and a higher authority that will protect the rights of citizens against the extension of state power… in reasonably democratic Europe at least.

However authoritarian regimes need have no such concerns. The Persian Gulf state of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has decided that it is to create a national DNA database of the entire resident population. According to The National newspaper, this will not even need any kind of debate or  even new legislation. They estimate that this will take up to 10 years if population growth is factored in.The paper claims this will be the world’s first such comprehensive database, but this is only partly true. Iceland, Sweden and Estonia have all set up comprehensive DNA databases run by their health services. But the UAE’s certainly appears to be the first attempts at a comprehensive law enforcement DNA database.

DNA pioneer, Sir Alec Jeffrys, has his doubts of course. But learned critique, or opposition or overt resistance are probably all largely irrelevant to the UAE government. However, if there is to be a roadblock,  it may be the economy: the UAE’s population is made up to a great extent of temporary foreign workers of all skill levels and occupation types, and the economy depends largely on the willingness of such workers to continue to come to the UAE. Whilst those at the bottom may feel they have little choice, those at the top may decide that such a policy would make the difference between them coming to and investing in the UAE, or not. The second article claims that ‘visitors’ will be exempt, but not ‘residents’. How this plays out remains to be seen. I have no doubt that the UAE will give in to the pressure of global wealth and find some way of exempting rich foreign residents, whilst making absolutely sure that poor immigrant workers are the first to be sampled.

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