The blood testing startup Theranos and the gene-splicing company Editas may be our most controversial startups in America, but they have nothing on the Kuwaiti government. According to the Kuwait Times, the country is instituting mandatory DNA testing to all flown-in visitors. It makes Edward Snowden's U.S. concerns seem almost quaint.
The DNA testing law that will go into effect this year is aimed at creating an integrated security database and does not include genealogical implications or affects personal freedoms and privacy. Senior officials told Kuwait Times that the law, the first of its kind in the world, will only be used for criminal security purposes. When the law (no. 78/2015) is applied, it will be binding on all citizens, expatriates and visitors too. A Kuwaiti security delegation had earlier visited Washington to study DNA testing systems there. [A spokesperson says] "Yes, the test will be mandatory for visitors [and] we will notify relevant authorities about whoever refuses to give a sample so that they could apply the measures stipulated in the law."
It will be a swab test, presumably as routine as a customs check. Your DNA will then be added to a database to help "fight crime and terrorism" It is powerful, it is scary and, by year's end, it is mandatory.
There are some amazing questions here. First, how private will this information be? Here in the states, startups like Editas and, most recently, Theranos have been been grilled over data collection and accuracy. Now we have to trust that the Kuwait government will respect our privacy with our most private biological secrets. Comforting.
Second, if the intention is to fight terrorism, then what is their definition of terrorism? Journalists, activists and other controversial visitors could be tracked, booted out of the country or worse. In fact, this development is an extension of a current law requiring DNA testing of all citizens. It is more concerning that Kuwait is a political hot spot surrounded by long-term unrest and war.
Third, could the DNA collecting lead to a deeper level of racist agendas? Ethnic cleansing continues to happen in the Middle East, Africa and Eastern Europe, and that's just based on how people look and their given name. Giving your exact heritage, down to the percentage, to a foreign government sounds like a disaster waiting to happen.
The truth is that, no matter what your company does, your business is international. Indeed, when I co-founded the app Cuddlr, we were fielding users from Australia and Russia alike. As an entrepreneur, you should prepare to connect with, if not visit many different cultures and countries. It's important to keep an eye on where you go and what you need to sacrifice to make your business bloom.
If this controversial amendment does go into effect later this year, then you definitely should consider how you do your international business going forward.