- Blog Entry November 7, 2016 -
by Lisa Hurst, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs
2016 Presidential Election
The 2016 Presidential election now looms near – voting will begin in less than 18 hours as I write this post. Barring any “hanging chads” or other unexpected wrinkles in the voting system, the United States is within 48 hours of determining who will lead the United States for the next four years. Whether the coming change is minimal or more seismic will largely depend on who wins. However, with specific regard to forensic DNA, we at GTH do not expect much change with either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump in the Oval Office. And the good news is that there is reason to believe that both candidates will be friendly to DNA.
Then-Senator Hillary Clinton was among the original cosponsors of the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Elimination Act of 2002 (S. 2513). This bill created the funding that is still used today to provide important funding to our nation’s crime labs to address forensic DNA cases. While Donald Trump has not expressed any direct interest in forensic DNA, he has demonstrated strong support for law enforcement and public safety issues. There is every reason to be optimistic that he would continue support for forensic DNA in identifying criminals.
Rather, forensic DNA policy and funding is much more likely to be impacted by the outcome of Congressional and State Legislative elections. These leaders in legislative bodies are better positioned to take a more hands-on approach with forensic DNA and related budgets. With important issues still facing the forensic DNA community, and indeed the entire criminal justice system -- such as funding (always), Rapid DNA, next generation sequencing, database expansion, and rape kit testing – keeping a close eye on the so-called “down-ticket” candidates will give greater insight into how DNA will, or will not, be used in the years to come.
- Blog Entry September 29, 2016 -
By Tim Schellberg, Gordon Thomas Honeywell Governmental Affairs
Kuwait All Population Database
There is little doubt now that the Kuwait all population DNA database will move forward at some level. The effort to secure the necessary infrastructure is underway, and the Ministry of Interior is actively preparing to start the project. The first samples could be collected at some point in 2017.
The database will be the first of its kind in the world. The legislation requires all citizens (est. 1.3 million), all foreign residents (est. 2.9), and all visitors to submit their DNA. As the implementation of this project grows near, the international privacy community is petitioning the Kuwaiti government to reconsider implementing the project. See the Washington Post article for a summary of the project and related concerns: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/09/14/kuwait-plans-to-create-a-huge-dna-database-of-resident-and-visitors-scientists-are-appalled/
Most of the privacy advocate’s concerns are aimed at stopping Kuwait’s move into compulsory civil DNA collection, rather than petitioning to the Kuwaiti government to adjust some of their privacy protections. While Kuwait could end up changing some of the law, turning back on mandatory DNA collection for a majority of the people living in Kuwait is highly unlikely.
Even though the compulsory nature of this law is likely moving forward, I believe the privacy advocates would be more successful if they focused on privacy protection strategies such as sample destruction policies. If the biological sample is destroyed after the profiling of the sample, the remaining information under the control of the government, i.e. the STR (non-coding region) profile, is very similar to a fingerprint. We must keep in mind that numerous countries/states require all citizens to submit fingerprints for national ID card purposes. Even though well over 1 billion people are subject to compulsory fingerprint requirements, I have yet to hear of any privacy violations resulting from these national fingerprint databases.
I understand that even if the biological sample is destroyed, leaving just a limited non-coding region profile, one could argue that a DNA profile is still different from a fingerprint because of the ability to make familial searching inferences. But, some countries have already established strict policies on familial searching. Similar privacy provisions could be suggested for Kuwait.
Privacy advocates could accomplish a lot more by approaching Kuwait with the goal of having the Kuwaiti government explain their privacy strategies and to offer productive remedies. Kuwait is already planning various privacy protections with this project. However, if the advocates can bring more solutions to the attention of Kuwait in a collaborative manner, perhaps additional privacy strategies could be implemented.
The Kuwait all population DNA database will be an interesting project to monitor, not only to determine its ability to accomplish its security objectives but also to see how it is operationally implemented and how the residents of Kuwait react to it.