Kuwait Becomes First Country to Collect DNA Samples From All Citizens and Visitors: Report

Kuwait will become the first country to collect DNA samples from its citizens and visitors. REUTERS/ Jamal Saidi

Kuwait is set to become the first country in the world to require all its citizens, visitors and expatriates to provide DNA samples for the government's database, according to a report.

In July 2015, the Kuwaiti government passed the DNA testing law, which is set to go into effect later this year, according to the Kuwait Times. The DNA samples of at least 3.3 million people—gotten from saliva or few drops of blood—will be stored in a lab at the General Department of Criminal Evidence in Dajeej, a suburb about 12 miles south of Kuwait City.

The bill was passed with national security in mind, says a senior official, who spoke anonymously to the Kuwait Times. Having DNA samples of everyone in the country, officials say, will facilitate in solving crime and terrorism cases. Citing the United Kingdom and the United States as models for DNA databases, despite the fact that neither country has a law demanding samples from every citizen, Kuwait says that it is now be "at par" with those countries.

Despite assuring the Kuwait Times that anyone who makes the DNA information public will face jail time, the Kuwaiti officials gave a vague answer to concerns about privacy. "Privacy is undoubtedly the main concern of [the Interior Ministry] in general and the criminal evidence department in particular," says one. "The executive charter is very strict with staff members dealing with the samples in order to win the trust of citizens, residents, visitors and anyone who has access to the database."

Visitors to Kuwait will also have to provide DNA samples to the government. When arriving by plane, visitors will stop at a center at Kuwait International Airport to have their DNA sample taken. Bruce Schneier, a prominent American privacy and cybersecurity specialist, says that the collection will likely be a standard cheek swab.

For citizens, the Kuwaiti government will have mobile centers to collect samples. Anyone faking the DNA samples faces up to a maximum seven years in prison.

In addition to solving crimes and terrorism cases, Kuwaiti officials also say they will use the database to help identify bodies in cases of natural disaster. "The test is not done to diagnose any disease or obtain medical information because such information is part of individuals' privacy and the law bans access to it," says an official.