The government of Rwanda has recently proposed a country-wide DNA database, a project that will involve collecting samples from all 12 million citizens in an effort to address crime. This has prompted concerns from human rights campaigners who believe the database could be misused by the government and violate international human rights laws. While the country poses a data protection policy, it is still very vague and not comprehensive enough to tackle the challenges that come with having such a database.
The government of Rwanda should realize that “genome is the property of an individual and not the state’s” hence policies they put forth to govern this move should grant citizens consent on what data they choose to share under very strict circumstances. DNA sample contains very personal information hence the risk of data abuse is potentially high as well as vulnerability to hacking.
Paradigm Initiative’s Google Policy Fellow for Eastern Africa, Rebecca Ryakitimbo said, “It is debatable whether the benefits to society of having a national DNA database outweighs an individual’s right to privacy. There is a need to answer critical questions such as ”Who owns the genetic information and who controls what happens to it and how it is used? Who is responsible for the genetic information”.The potential for the information in the DNA database to be misused by the Government, security services, police forces or criminals is quite high if these questions are not attended to.”
Drawing experiences from countries like the UK which has a National DNA Database (NDNAD) that holds the DNA profiles and samples from a select number of UK individuals. The implications of this database to innocent citizens who were on the database brought about privacy and other human rights concerns. It was in the light of this that in 2012, the UK Protection of Freedoms Bill came to effect to redress the balance between the State’s duty to protect the public and an individual’s right to privacy. This brought about the taking down of 1,766,000 DNA profiles taken from innocent adults and children, along with 1,672,000 fingerprint records. In addition to this, 7,753,000 DNA samples including 480,000 from children that contained sensitive personal biological data were destroyed.
Paradigm Initiative further said “Rwandan legislators, courts and law enforcement to ensure that the benefits of the database don’t come at the cost of privacy rights. It also essential to recognize that people do have an interest in controlling who can see their private information. The Government of Rwanda should foresee the risks that accompany the presence of such an extensive database containing very private and personal data of millions of its citizens in the age where digital security is of great concern. With the use of DNA data for policing, there will be risks on the burden of proof required for the forensic acceptability of DNA data.”
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