Technologies designed to quickly test a persons race for the purpose of allowing political asylum have been developed and are currently being used by the UK Border Agency.
Science has obtained Border Agency documents showing that isotope analyses of hair and nail samples will also be conducted “to help identify a person’s true country of origin.” The project “is regrettable,” says Caroline Slocock, chief executive of Refugee and Migrant Justice headquartered in London. Although asylum-seekers are asked to provide tissue samples voluntarily, turning down a government request for tissue could be misinterpreted, she says, “so we believe [the program] should not be introduced at all.”
The Border Agency’s DNA-testing plans would use mouth swabs for mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome testing, as well as analyses of subtle genetic variations called single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs). One goal of the project is to determine whether asylum-seekers claiming to be from Somalia and fleeing persecution are actually from another African country such as Kenya. If successful, the Border Agency suggests its pilot project could be extended to confirming other nationalities. Yet scientists say the Border Agency’s goals confuse ancestry or ethnicity with nationality. David Balding, a population geneticist at Imperial College London, notes that “genes don’t respect national borders, as many legitimate citizens are migrants or direct descendants of migrants, and many national borders split ethnic groups.
I can just imagine where this technology is headed at the hands of government types in the next 10-20 years. As with any misguided program like this, the original problem they are trying to solve is real, and the approach is viable… but, just like any deployment of technology, when it comes to large public programs or business systems which are far outside of the realm of personal use by private citizens, then governments, businesses, and citizens alike must consider the old adage; just because we can doesn’t mean we should. The technology being used today will continue to be refined and perfected, until real time DNA based personal identification is a reality… and unlike Gattaca, I don’t think it will require a pin pricking device at every government controlled gateway. I think it will simply require you to go about your day in a normal fashion, unobtrusively being identified by various systems as you perform your daily tasks… perhaps even with a sense of security because you know there really is someone watching over you all day.
Here are further reactions and expanded comments from geneticists and isotope specialists who examined the UK Border Agency documents; a stakeholders letter (stakeholder+letter.11.9.09.doc) and one titled Nationality-Swapping (nationality-swapping-DNA-testing.pdf), describing the Human Provenance Pilot Program.