Feeds

UK Border Agency suspends 'flawed' asylum DNA testing

To try head measuring?

Build a business case: developing custom apps

The UK Border Agency has quietly suspended its heavily-criticised attempt to test asylum seekers' nationality by DNA fingerprinting and isotope analysis.

Officials have been told that the "Human Provenance Pilot", described as "naive and scientifically flawed" by Sir Alec Jeffreys, the inventor of DNA fingerprinting, has been "temporarily suspended".

"Officers will be notified when the process resumes," a brief UK Border Agency memo says.

The programme aimed to test African asylum seekers' nationality claims by scrutinising their ancestry and chemical make-up.

The Home Office, responsible for the UK Border Agency, said "nationality swapping is often used by fraudulent asylum seekers to help prevent their removal". In particular, according to the now-withdrawn instruction to officials, other nationalities falsely claim to be Somali in the hope the bloodshed there will help their case.

As soon as news of the pilot emerged in late September, however, the scientific community railed against what Jeffreys called "huge and unwarranted assumptions about population structure in Africa".

Professor Mark Thomas, a geneticist at University College London, said mitochondrial DNA, which the pilot was partially based on, was completely useless for determining nationality. "You'd be better off looking at the colour of their shoes," he told The Register.

There is some evidence the methods used by the UK Border Agency can determine regional ancestry in Europe, Thomas said, but very little support for it in Africa.

He cited a large population of cultural Somalis who have lived in Ethiopia for generations as an example of the type of cross-border genetic mixing no DNA testing could pick up. At best the techniques could offer "some idea of whereabouts on the continent a person's ancestors were from".

Isotope testing is equally unproven, he added, concluding, "what I would like to know is which scientists told them to do this!".

The Home Office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the suspension of the pilot today. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Rupert Murdoch says Google is worse than the NSA
Mr Burns vs. The Chocolate Factory, round three!
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Germany 'accidentally' snooped on John Kerry and Hillary Clinton
Dragnet surveillance picks up EVERYTHING, USA, m'kay?
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
Who needs hackers? 'Password1' opens a third of all biz doors
GPU-powered pen test yields more bad news about defences and passwords
Think crypto hides you from spooks on Facebook? THINK AGAIN
Traffic fingerprints reveal all, say boffins
Microsoft cries UNINSTALL in the wake of Blue Screens of Death™
Cache crash causes contained choloric calamity
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.