U.K. Backing Away From DNA, Isotope Nationality Tests?

After ScienceInsider revealed last week that scientists were condemning its use of DNA testing and isotopic tissue analysis to decide the fate of asylum seekers, the U.K. Border Agency has apparently changed its plans. In a statement released this afternoon by the Home Office, which oversees the Border Agency, the department's Chief Scientific Advisor Paul Wiles now says such evidence will be collected for later analysis of its potential but will not currently be used for individual case decisions.

According to Wiles' statement (bold and italics as in the original):

UKBA have commenced a small scale proof of concept project that will run until June 2010. Participation in the project will be entirely voluntary, and will test whether there is the potential for these investigations to be supported by wider use of DNA testing and isotope analysis.

Whilst this trial is being undertaken, no decisions on individual cases will be made using these techniques, and they will not be used for evidential purposes.

After the trial there will be a review of the efficacy of the approach, the underpinning science and a review of the ethical issues involved.

Once the trial has been completed, the techniques will be referred to the Home Office Forensic Science Regulator (see www.police.homeoffice.gov.uk/operational-policing/forensic-science-regulator/). Only after review by the Forensic Science Regulator will the techniques be considered for use in asylum investigations.

Wiles' statement represents an apparent policy change as it contradicts the "Nationality-Swapping" document, which describes how Border Agency officials judging asylum cases should access DNA and isotope evidence from the project and use it in interviews with asylum seekers. That document and other statements by the Agency indicated that the DNA and isotope data would indeed be used, along with other evidence, to make asylum decisions.


Earlier post: Key Questions on Nationality Testing

John Travis

John Travis is the News Managing Editor at Science and also plans and edits news coverage of biology and biomedical topics.