Manama: Kuwait’s interior ministry has proposed a programme to collect and store reference specimens of DNA from staff in the ministries of defence, interior and oil, the National Guard as well as from firefighters, prisoners and suspects in crime and security cases.
The ministry’s proposal is in line with the spirit of the need to safeguard security in Kuwait and preserve people’s rights, security sources told Kuwaiti daily Al Rai.
The programme will be limited to the active duty staff in sensitive and dangerous departments and cover around 20 per cent of the population. Al Rai reported that the proposal is in line with international standards applied in countries such as the US, England and Scotland that a security delegation from Kuwait visited to get insights into their experiences in collecting and storing DNA specimens.
The ministry’s proposal does not include collecting samples from women or children or civil employees and will serve only as a database to be used in cases of calamities or catastrophes, such as the 2009 wedding tent fire in Jahra, northwest of the capital Kuwait City, that killed 57 people. The identification of the burnt bodies posed real challenges to the authorities.
The ministry’s proposal is in response to an order this month from Emir Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah to reconsider a controversial DNA law passed by the parliament in 2015 that allowed the state to collect DNA information from well over three million people as a security measure.
The bill would have been the world’s first mandatory DNA sampling law.
In his order, the Emir said that the review “should be in accordance with the country’s constitution and should ensure that people’s privacy is safeguarded and that public interests and social security are served while the objectives of the law are met”.
In passing the law, the parliament said it was a way to help build a database of convicted terrorists and criminals and to combat cases where non-Kuwaitis fraudulently obtained Kuwaiti citizenship, with some instances dating back to 40 years.
However, the decision to collect DNA samples of the country’s 1.2 million citizens and 2.3 million foreigners has stirred up a robust debate in the country over security versus personal privacy.
The issue has resurfaced recently as Kuwait’s decision to implement electronic passports took effect in September. Officials said that anyone applying for a new passport in Kuwait would have to get an electronic passport, which requires a DNA sample.
Critics of DNA sampling said they were worried that the information will be used to go after Kuwaitis with dual-citizenship, which is illegal, 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.
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”.
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 5,000 Kuwaiti dinars (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.
Last 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 if more DNA testing is conducted.