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World’s first required national DNA database is in the works

Sean Patterson, ARP Sciences, LLC, quality management section DNA analyst, checks expiration dates on reagents in the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System – Armed Forces DNA Identification Laboratory. (Staff Sgt. Nicole Leidholm/U.S. Air Force)
March 25, 2019

Rwanda wants to implement the world’s first mandatory national DNA database in an attempt to crack down on crimes like murder and rape.

The plan, announced by Rwanda’s Minister for Justice and Attorney General Johnston Busingye, would require all 12 million Rwanda citizens to give samples of their DNA to the government, according to the Independent.

Busingye said, “We think we have the technical basis now to launch into the development of a DNA database. That said, it is first of all a legal process. We will examine global best practice on the issue, propose appropriate law and implement accordingly. I want to assure you that the ultimate goal is to have all the necessary equipment and technical know-how to provide accurate information about who is responsible for crime”.

Human rights activists are concerned that the database could encroach upon the international human rights laws and possibly be abused by the Rwandan government and distribute sensitive medical and genetic information.

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Alexandrine Pirlot de Corbion, global program lead at the charity Privacy International, said: “There is an inherent risk that this kind of database could be misused in the future. Around the world we have seen instances where large sets of data have been misused for repression – allowing authorities to identify and profile groups in society that a government might want to locate.”

Rwanda is anxious to be the first to implement this type of database, but funds still need to be allocated for the project.

Many other countries have already begun to start using extensive DNA databases, including China, who may be doing so without consent. A free medical checkup program is thought to be a guise to secretly collect 36 million Muslim Uyghurs citizens’ DNA.

The United States’ national DNA database is called the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), however, it is not like the one that Rwanda plans to use.

In the U.S., certain crimes require the collection of DNA samples which are then loaded onto CODIS. They can then be cross-matched at later dates to match criminals to specific crimes, according to the FBI website.

CODIS was intended to support law enforcement by making critical investigative information available when DNA is found at a crime scene, but no suspect was identified.

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DNA data is confidential in the U.S. and only criminal justice agencies can access it. Violations result in a $250,000 fine.