WikiLeaks Raise Genetic Concerns

Posted by Doug Pet December 2, 2010
Biopolitical Times

The controversial media organization known as WikiLeaks recently released 251,287 confidential government cables on US foreign relations and activities. While the document content spans from the genuinely troubling to the distractingly inane [1, 2, 3], one revelation about the Fed's pursuit of foreign diplomats' DNA raises unique concerns.

Leaked cables report that the "national human intelligence collection directive," issued under Hillary Clinton, tasks US diplomats stationed internationally to gather biometric data (including DNA) on

"Key UN officials, to include undersecretaries, heads of specialised agencies and their chief advisers, top SYG [secretary general] aides, heads of peace operations and political field missions, including force commanders."

Items to collect include:

"Biographic and biometric data, including health, opinions toward the US, training history, ethnicity (tribal and/or clan), and language skills of key and emerging political, military, intelligence, opposition, ethnic, religious, and business leaders. Data should include email addresses, telephone and fax numbers, fingerprints, facial images, DNA, and iris scans."

Critics have noted that this pushes "the boundary between diplomacy and espionage," threatening US diplomatic credibility and possibly violating a 1946 UN convention on privileges and immunity for representatives.

However, the government's deeming of personal genetic profiles as "vital" to foreign intelligence and security should also force us to pay closer attention to our domestic trajectories around genetic privacy and proprietary ownership. Expanded applications of DNA forensics, infant DNA databanks, and gene patenting claims are just a few recent national developments perpetuating the growing idea that rights to genetic privacy can be trumped to satisfy state and (in the case of patents) commercial interests.

When we learn of government or private initiatives to gather and store individual's DNA, whether it is internationally or on home soil, we would be wise to make sure we ask "why?" and "to what ends?" Otherwise our genetic profile will get lumped into the category of "standard" demographic information, and serious and continually evolving risks to privacy, health and individual autonomy will get lost in the mix.

Previously in Biopolitical Times: