Controversial Dubai DNA testing plan causes discrimination fears

Published:  5 Mar at 6 PM
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Dubai’s controversial plan to DNA test all its residents inclduing expats is being seen as an invasion of privacy likely to result in discrimination.

The idea of creating the largest DNA database in the world is being justified as a scheme aimed at identifying dangerous diseases before they take hold, but is causing widespread concern amongst the sprawling city’s millions of expats. Privacy campaigners are warning about possible violations of personal privacy once the database is complete. According to Big Brother Watch director Silkie Carlo, the plan is extraordinary and should act as a reminder of the dangers of governments’ collection and hoarding of residents’ DNA.

Carlo added the risk in Dubai is especially high, as the UAE lacks true democracy, fails to uphold human rights and has no electoral democracy. Even in the hands of insurers or employers, DNA information can be a tool for discrimination against certain ethnic groups. Dubai’s attempt to collect DNA samples isn’t the first in the Gulf States, as a similar Kuwaiti law threatening travellers and citizens with jail of they refused to give samples was revoked late last year.

According to a Dubai Health Authority official, UAE nationals will be the first to be targeted.The timetable for the scheme is roughly two years, beginning with the sampling, and ending in 2020 with data bank entries for every resident in the emirate. There does seem to be a focus on genetic diseases, as 220 such illnesses have been identified amongst the region’s population. One such is the fatal blood disorder Thalassaemia, also found in Mediterranian countries as well as being common in the UAE, but internet security experts are warning the data could easily be hacked and end up in the wrong hands.

The US CEO of tech firm Digital Warfare told local media the ‘ambitious’ database was alarming, to say the least. Privacy protection, he added, should have been the first priority, as Dubai Healthcare City’s laws aren’t protective enough, nor are the UAE’s federal data protection laws. He explained even restricting viewing of the ‘highly valuable’ data to a specific group of medical specialists would require internet connectivity, making the database easily targeted by experienced hackers. The greater the asset, he said, the greater the likelihood of its being stolen.
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