Bioethics Blogs

Genetic Fingerprints and National Security

by Beau P. Sperry, Megan Allyse & Richard R. Sharp

Biometric surveillance is rapidly becoming an integral component of national security policy and practice. Biometric surveillance can include fingerprinting, facial and voice recognition, and iris scans. In 2002, in response to the September 11th attacks, the United States passed the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, which requires visa applicants to submit ten fingerprints to a national security database. Japan has been collecting fingerprints from its visitors since 2007 and many European nations are following suit, including the United Kingdom. Singapore began fingerprinting visitors in 2016, while the United Arab Emirates has gone a step further and now collects iris scans. Across the globe, national biometric databases are expanding, such as India’s Aadhaar program, which has gathered fingerprints and iris scans on more than one billion Indian citizens.

In recent years, countries like Kuwait have expanded biometric surveillance to include genetic data. In 2015, the Kuwaiti government enacted a law mandating the collection and retention of DNA samples from all citizens, residents, and travelers to Kuwait. The law was passed in response to a suicide bombing at a Shia mosque in Kuwait City that killed twenty-seven individuals and wounded 227 more. The goal of the law is to support national efforts to identify terrorists and to provide a resource for the identification of human remains in the aftermath of a major terrorist attack. Such laws signal increasing awareness of the potential utility of DNA analysis in national surveillance and security activities.

Unlike other identification methods, DNA provides a unique, unalterable, and easily obtained means of identification: even a small buccal swab can provide identifiable DNA for years.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.