Kuwait city airport check-in zone departures hall in Kuwait Image Credit: Supplied

Manama: Kuwait’s decision last year to collect DNA samples of its 1.2 million citizens and 2.3 million foreigners has stirred up a robust debate in the country over security versus personal privacy.

Parliament passed the DNA law in July 2015 as a way to combat cases where people fraudulently obtained the Kuwaiti citizenship, with some cases dating back to 40 years ago.

The DNA information will also be used to help build a database of convicted terrorists and criminals.

The issue has resurfaced recently as Kuwait’s decision to implement electronic passports has taken effect in September. Anyone applying for a new passport in Kuwait now will be forced to get an electronic passport which requires a DNA sample.

The sample is taken through a one-minute procedure collecting the person’s saliva.

Under Article 10 of the DNA law, “individuals forging DNA documents or knowingly using fake ones will be punished by a maximum of seven years in prison and/or a maximum KD5,000 (Dh60,957) fine.”

Kuwait has been engaged in a massive operation to unearth cases of forgery and falsifying records that enabled several foreigners, with the complicity of Kuwaitis, to acquire Kuwaiti citizenship.

Over 100 people last year were found guilty of fraudulently obtaining Kuwaiti citizenship.

Earlier this month, two men were arrested after it was discovered they illegally obtained citizenship over 50 years ago.

The two men, born to an Iraqi family, have been enjoying the benefits of Kuwaiti citizenship since 1965, when their father allegedly conspired with a Kuwaiti man to claim the boys were his own.

Authorities expect hundreds of similar cases to come to light as more DNA testing is conducted.

Critics of the DNA testing worry that the information will be used to go after Kuwaitis with dual-citizenship or those making lineage or paternity claims.

Authorities deny this is what they are after.

“Even if the General Directorate for Nationality receives information that a person has obtained Kuwaiti nationality fraudulently, robust evidence should be passed on to the judges. The general directorate will not make any move until it receives an official note from the judiciary. It is all well-stipulated in the law and carried out within the confines of the law,” Major General Shihab Al Shammari, the acting Assistant Undersecretary for Criminal Security Affairs in the Interior Ministry, said.

“The DNA will not be abused or misused in any way. Even when a citizen has doubts about his children and wants the results of the DNA, he will not receive anything. It is exclusively for the judiciary.”

Interior Ministry Assistant Undersecretary for Nationality and Residence Shaikh Mazen Al Jarrah has also assured the information would be confidential.

“It is a purely security measure to set up a database for every Kuwaiti and expatriate residing in Kuwait. There must be no concerns or worries about a possible leak of information because there is complete and utter secrecy to the point that the employee is dealing through barcodes and there are no names, which means he cannot identify the person who provided the sample since there are no names,” he told Kuwaiti daily Al Rai last month.

Despite the assurances, several human rights groups are calling for “amending the law and limiting the DNA collection to individuals suspected of having committed serious crimes.”