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Scientists Decry "Horrifying" UK Border Test Plan 515

cremeglace writes "Scientists are dismayed and outraged at a new project by the UK border agency to test DNA, hair, and nails to determine the nationality of asylum seekers and help decide if they can enter the UK. 'Horrifying,' 'naive,' and 'flawed' are among the words geneticists and isotope specialists have used to describe the 'Human Provenance pilot project.' The methods being used to determine ancestry include fingerprinting of mitochondrial DNA and isotope analysis of hair and nails. ScienceInsider blog notes that it is 'not clear who is conducting the DNA and isotope analyses for the Border Agency,' and that the agency has not 'cited any scientific papers that validate its DNA and isotope methods.' There is also a followup post with more information on the tests that are being used, and some reactions from experts in genetic forensic analysis. This story was first reported in The Observer on Sunday."
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Scientists Decry "Horrifying" UK Border Test Plan

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  • 1984 (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @03:33AM (#29590193)

    This isn't even funny anymore.

  • PR (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thanshin ( 1188877 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @03:38AM (#29590215)

    Aparently, simply discrimating by skin color is not cool anymore.

    • Re:PR (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @03:47AM (#29590243)

      Sure it is. They just want SCIENCE to take away all that awful guilt.

    • Re:PR (Score:5, Insightful)

      by kinnell ( 607819 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @04:36AM (#29590525)

      Aparently, simply discrimating by skin color is not cool anymore.

      It's not about discrimination based on race, it's about verifying whether someone is from where they say they are from to prevent normal emmigrants passing themselves off as refugees to bypass the emmigration system. It's stupid of course because it's based on the assumption that there is a tie between nationality and genetic ancestry. A fairly large proportion of british citizens would test as Indian under this scheme.

      • Aparently, simply discrimating by skin color is not cool anymore.

        It's not about discrimination based on race, it's about verifying whether someone is from where they say they are from to prevent normal emmigrants passing themselves off as refugees to bypass the emmigration system. It's stupid of course because it's based on the assumption that there is a tie between nationality and genetic ancestry. A fairly large proportion of british citizens would test as Indian under this scheme.

        This is going to come across a bit grammar-Nazi-ish, but I think you're getting confused between "emigrate" and "immigrate". They are different words with completely opposite meanings! The initial "e" in "emigrate" comes from the Latin "ex", meaning "out of", and "emigration" is when you move away from a country. The initial "im" in "immigrate" comes from the Latin "in" (meaning obvious), and "immigration" is when you move into a country.

        Hopefully the distinction is clearer now.

      • A lot of them "lose" their papers since they can't be sent home if you can't work out where they're from.

        I'd suggest that all dubious cases should be assumed to come from Graham Island (referred to as Ferdinandea by the thieving Eyeties, who stole it).

    • Re:PR (Score:5, Interesting)

      by couchslug ( 175151 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @06:28AM (#29591075)

      The thing about letting in absolutely anyone is that it doesn't protect the benefits of exclusivity. It also doesn't reinforce the cultural and social preferences of those people a country belongs to.

      With culture comes religious and political baggage. For example, Muslims tend to bring Islam with them when they arrive in a Western country. Religion is bad, primitive religion is worse, and there is every reason for Westerners who value personal freedom to keep out religious enemies just as they would reject political enemies (religion is merely superstitious politics).

      It's a bit of a wrench when people raised on simplistic, very blind idealism find that other people can use their naive ideals against them. To the extent that you allow a population of social primitives into your home, they will make it over in the image of the societies they left, especially when their religion is predatory. People cherish the idea that their ideals will magically protect them (rather a secular religion IMO) but are coming up against reality.

      Europe belongs to Europeans. They should decide if there is a moral obligation to turn it into Arabia and Africa, or not. I would think they suffered enough getting Christianity off their backs, but it appears Euros don't remember history any better than Yanks.

      • Agreed sir (Score:4, Insightful)

        by coder111 ( 912060 ) <coder@rrmail.CURIEcom minus physicist> on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @08:33AM (#29591829)
        I know that Nazism did horrible things in the past and that (in theory) people of all races and nations are equal, but being always politically correct and not even trying to discuss issues like that makes them even worse.

        I don't care about other people's nation or the colour of their skin. I do care about the culture they bring with them. And I do think that culture in Europe should remain predominantly European. This means either assimilating other cultures (people representing them living in Europe), or limiting amount of other cultures (people representing them) we import, or both.

        I don't condone 1984-ish measures like described in this story, but I do think there should be limits to immigration, and I think toleration can go too far.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by kalirion ( 728907 )

      Seriously, wouldn't it just be easier to only let in the blond, blue eyed folks?

  • by Chrisq ( 894406 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @03:39AM (#29590217)
    They had a TV program last year when they did some genetic tests on people who considered themselves to be 100% English. I remember that out of 12 one had mitochondrial DNA that would have had his female line originating in Eastern Europe, one had Jewish ancestry and another Indian - and these were all people who did not know of any non-British relatives.

    Add to that the millions of people who have known foreign ancestry but British citizenship and the whole idea becomes useless.
    • Apparently, the UK's royal traditions [] have finally caught up with them and everybody in a position of power there is retarded.
      • by mpe ( 36238 )
        Apparently, the UK's royal traditions have finally caught up with them and everybody in a position of power there is retarded.

        That would be an improvement. Since then they'd be too stupid to come up with these kind of daft ideas or waste huge amounts of tax payers' money.
    • by Digestromath ( 1190577 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @04:17AM (#29590413)
      Would they look at my half Scotish side? Or the German half? Or would they look at it and say I came straight out of a chimp via Africa and Mesopotamia?
    • by mpe ( 36238 )
      They had a TV program last year when they did some genetic tests on people who considered themselves to be 100% English. I remember that out of 12 one had mitochondrial DNA that would have had his female line originating in Eastern Europe, one had Jewish ancestry and another Indian - and these were all people who did not know of any non-British relatives.

      These techniques are useful for genealogy and archaeology but at these examples indicate utterly useless for determining citizenship, even of the "native
    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      It wouldn't surprise me if that TV show was where they got the idea from.

      It won't last long. The first person who disputes the findings will get free legal support and the methods will be rejected by the courts. Basically it looks like they have been duped by the companies providing these tests and are going to waste several millions on it just to see if it works.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Rogerborg ( 306625 )

      What is this hoping to achieve

      I'll type this very slowly to make it easier to understand.

      It's. Not. About. British. Racial. Purity. Not all societies are as heterogeneous. This is not a test for "British" ancestry. We're a nation of bastards. Geneticists understand this.

      This is a test so that when some dark avised Johnny Foreigner gets scraped off the bottom of a lorry and claims to be a political refugee from Outer Warzoneistan, the border gestapo can test them and say "Funny - you seem to be of In

  • The problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Toonol ( 1057698 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @03:41AM (#29590219)
    The problem isn't the scientific validity of the test; the problem is the idea that an emigrant's nationality should factor into whether they should be allowed residency.

    The science is horrible, but the root of the problem is primarily political and perhaps moral.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CountBrass ( 590228 )
      Of course the resident's nationality is a factor in deciding whether residency is allowed: in fact it should be the major factor.

      And the rule should be a simple one: if you are an EU national you are allowed residency in the UK, otherwise not.

      We also need to cancel these stupid loopholes that allow nationals of ex-Imperial colonies any preferential right of abode. The British Empire ended over 50 years ago!
      • Re:The problem (Score:4, Informative)

        by draco664 ( 960985 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @03:57AM (#29590305)
        There are generational requirements for entry on long-term visas into the UK. As an Australian whose grandmother was born in the UK, I can get an ancestry visa, which would give me the right to live in the UK for 5 years. My mother could get permanent right-of-abode. My children will only be able to get holiday visas.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by badfish99 ( 826052 )

        the rule should be a simple one: if you are an EU national you are allowed residency in the UK, otherwise not

        OK, we've got a political treaty with the EU, but if you were starting from scratch, why pick on any one country and give its people more favourable status than any others?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by worip ( 1463581 )
        Take away all the immigrants (especially the highly skilled ones) and the UK economy will collapse. The technological centers of innovation in UK, e.g. Cambridge, will shrink or simply disappear without an influx of foreign workers. London will grind to a halt if you remove the foreign workers (they keep the place together, clean and in functioning order). Note that ex-Imperial colony immigrants have to jump through exactly the same hoops as other people to obtain the right to stay in the UK.
        Imperialism m
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by CountBrass ( 590228 )
          The vast majority of immigrants are *not* highly skilled. Stop all migrants and the UK would nett gain.

          They come here, rather than stopping in France, for example, on the way is because we have a stupidly generous benefits systems where not only do we pay legal migrants of no worth we even pay illiegal immigrants and those appealing decisions to extradite them!
      • Re:The problem (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Alioth ( 221270 ) <no@spam> on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @04:50AM (#29590601) Journal

        For what reasons do you think this should be so?

        My next door neighbour is Albanian. She has a degree in electrical engineering, and speaks four languages fluently (her native Albanian, of course, as well as English, Italian and German). She is precisely the sort of person we should be biting our own arms off to get into the country.

        But she describes the whole experience of the immigration process as "Kafkaesque". She would have gone to Canada where people with her qualifications are welcomed - except she was engaged to marry my neighbour. The UK Embassy treated her as sub-human, with little manners, and tried to make the entire process humiliating.

        What I have to ask is this: what is fundamentally different between, say, someone from Yorkshire moving to Hampshire, and someone from Albania - who speaks English fluently - doing the same thing? Why don't we have immigration controls in every county to keep people in the same place and stop them from moving around? Also, why do so many UK citizens want to emigrate to sunny places without bothering to learn the local language, but get bent all out of shape when people from other countries arrive in the UK?

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by CmdrGravy ( 645153 )

          I'm sure there are lots of people like your next door neighbour who we would want to come to the UK but equally there are many people who aren't like your neighbour that we don't particulary want to come here and there does have to be some sort of system to sort out one from the other.

          This proposed system clearly isn't going to work and the current system is probably not very efficient, partly no doubt to the number of people it needs to process and the amount of money available to do the processing.


        • Re:The problem (Score:4, Interesting)

          by u38cg ( 607297 ) <> on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @07:18AM (#29591355) Homepage
          Re your last paragraph, that's exactly what we used to do, but not at a county level, a *parish* level. To leave and settle in another parish, you needed a piece of paper called a testificat, signed by your minister, stating your good character. I'm not sure if it's ever been formally abolished, either.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by RegularFry ( 137639 )

      Unless I'm misreading this, the purpose of this test is to see whether someone's stated nationality matches what they say it is. When you're assessing an asylum claim, that does actually make sense - if they're lying about their nationality, they may well be lying about any of their reasons for claiming asylum.

      Unfortunately, this test doesn't give you that. It's just not accurate enough.

    • Re:The problem (Score:5, Informative)

      by bradley13 ( 1118935 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @04:31AM (#29590497) Homepage
      I think you are misunderstanding the problem. I live in Europe, and see the streams of "refugees" coming in. The problem is this: someone shows up on your border, with no papers or documentation of any kind, and says "Help me! I need refuge!". You ask them why. They say "I am from country XXX, it is terrible there". Did they truly flee from some horrible fate? Possible. It is also possible that they are from somewhere else entirely, and just looking for any way to get into the land of milk and honey. Where - having few useful skills and less education - they will probably spend the rest of their lives living on welfare. Right now, the main technique is a series of interviews. What language do they speak? This requires access to a huge supply of interpreters. Then you ask them general knowledge questions, like "what's the name of your capital ciety". All of this is time-consuming, expensive and extremely error-prone. If they speak some European language, they may be able to avoid using their native language. They may have been prepped with general information. Or they may be genuine refugees with no education and hence may really not know the name of the capital city. It is no wonder at all that governments are looking for additional ways to check identity. Such a test could never be definitive, but it would be one more piece of evidence. You can also see this in a positive light: assuming that the tests are halfway reliable, if they show the person really is from war-torn Elbonia, you can short-circuit the whole frustrating interview and testing process.
      • Re:The problem (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Oxygen99 ( 634999 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @06:11AM (#29590993)
        Christ on a bike. See. This is the problem with you people. Frankly, if someone appears on my borders having travelled thousands of miles, with little money and no knowledge of the native language yet can pick up local customs and prejudices well enough to game a complicated system that intelligent people put in place precisely to stop them then who cares whether they're "genuine refugees"? That level of motivation and energy is welcome in any society I'm part of because it's precisely those qualities that create the milk and honey you're so fond of! Don't you understand? Geographic and social mobility is good! Stasis is bad! Change is good! How is that difficult? Gah! And double Gah! I'm sick of being exposed to this puerile nonsense day after day after day. Maybe you're right. Maybe we should be more draconian. I just hope that if we are, the powers-that-be make it as hard to leave as it'll become to enter. That way you can live in the economic, social and demographic backwater you create. It's a shame most people are shrieking fools nowadays as otherwise we might be able to construct a meaningful dialogue regarding the best way to manage immigration. That way English classes for migrants wouldn't be first on the altar of economic sacrifice, limiting their ability to integrate and compounding the us-and-them mentality that strangles any debate at birth. Immigration does raise complex question but it is beneficial and if people would just drop their belief in their god-given right to do whatever the fuck they want to poor people in other countries without the burden of consequences ever dropping in their lap then perhaps we could step out of the handbasket and head upwards rather than downwards for once.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Hognoxious ( 631665 )
          Intelligence and motivation do not amount to good intent.
        • Re:The problem (Score:5, Interesting)

          by CountBrass ( 590228 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @08:49AM (#29592003)
          That's complete nonesense.

          You've fallen for the line that there is some abstract entity called 'country' which can benefit from an influx of these so-called intelligent 'immigrants'.

          When it comes to considering whether to allow immigration the question should be: does it benefit citizens IN THE LONG TERM. If the answer is no then they shouldn't be let in.

          Let's look at the three main arguments for allow immigrants:

          1) highly skilled.
          Firstly, what's the chance that Bonga-Bonga land is going to produce anyone that's highly skilled? Secondly if they could, why would they come here? And thirdly if we need them INVEST IN OUR PEOPLE!

          In fact you could argue that by letting them come here we're depriving their homeland of their expertise.

          2) Immigrants will help pay the pensions
          Immigrants get old as well. So all you do is push the problem back. And that assumes they don't just stick their snouts in the benefits trough.

          3) Immigrants will do jobs that we (citizens) don't want to do.
          Firstly, immigrants don't stick with doing the crappy under-paid jobs. Next generation they too will be declining to do them. So unless you're willing to make them a slave-race that isn't going to work for long. And supply and demand: increase wages to a level that attracts people who want those jobs, don't import foreigners.

          There is literally no good reason for a rich country like the UK to allow immigration from the third world.
    • by mpe ( 36238 )
      The problem isn't the scientific validity of the test; the problem is the idea that an emigrant's nationality should factor into whether they should be allowed residency.

      Thing is that someone's nationality is indicated by human created documents. Their DNA simply isn't especially relevent.
    • Re:The problem (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Darinbob ( 1142669 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @04:54AM (#29590625)
      The article says this is about asylum seekers, not regular immigrants. Ie, those from Somalia are allowed entry because they are fleeing a war zone, whereas there is concern (unfounded or not) that some Kenyans are claiming to be Somali. Currently some other techniques are used for helping figure this out, such as languages known.

      The science is a problem because it's completely bogus. You can't tell what country a person is from this way; you can only tell generalities, such as what region they've been living in the last year, or what their ancestry is. It's pseudo-science.

      My guess is that someone in the home office is an idiot (more so than usual), and has seen some abstract of some papers, decided that the techniques could be used for certain purposes, and then told someone about the plans without actually verifying the plausibility.
  • It has to go this way for V to eventually be able to come and free us!
  • DHS (Score:3, Insightful)

    by muckracer ( 1204794 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @03:51AM (#29590273)

    Soon to be in an airport near you...mandatory DNS sample of all visitors to this, thank God, free country.

  • by macraig ( 621737 ) <> on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @03:52AM (#29590275)

    It seems that Britain has finally become the true antithesis of an Empire: rather than trying to expand, it wants to shrink and implode upon itself....

    • That's one way of putting it. An english friend of mine preferred suggesting that a black hole had been created by the past few prime ministers climbing too far up each other's collective asses.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

      Immigrants are just the latest scapegoats. It's sad to say but we seem to have an unfortunate tendency to want to hate minorities and blame them for all our ills.

      I think a lot of it is due not never having any kind of revolutionary moment where we realised the dangers of this kind of thinking and came to understand the value of things like freedom and equality.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by CountBrass ( 590228 )
        Typical Politically Correct Brigade double-talk: conflating unrelated ideas.

        Not wanting them in your home is not the same as hating them.

        I don't hate you but I wouldn't invite you into my house.
    • by Stevecrox ( 962208 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @05:45AM (#29590847) Journal
      The problems a simple one, Britain isn't very large (80,823 square miles) and has a population of approximately 70 Million people. To give a good comparison France has a similar population size but an area of 260,558 square miles. We are one of the most densely populated areas in the world. We are running out of land to build houses on.

      Refugee's are supposed to goto the nearest safe country but because of Britain's great welfare scheme many are traveling all across Europe and then sneaking into the UK. The majority of these refugees are men who are escaping the horrors at home but feel its ok to leave mums, wives and children back home.

      A great strain is put on the local services like medical care, housing, schools. They then make no effort to integrate and form their own mini versions of their country within a town/city. Local's get upset because crime increases in these area's and because of their status the asylum seekers are given preferential treatment.

      Do I agree with this measure? No I think its sick and wrong, but then I'm tired of the large number of fake asylum seekers we let in who I'm not aloud to complain about because its racist. Government caused this problem in the name of multi-cultralisim and the fact none of the non-minority population can complain is whats caused the strong racist feelings within the country, hopefully it will only take a couple of BNP MP's for Parliament to realise this before the country explodes.
      • by smoker2 ( 750216 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @06:37AM (#29591113) Homepage Journal
        1) We are not running out of land to build houses on.
        2) You appear to read too much of the Daily Mail. The official figures for asylum seekers as as follows :

        Total applications for asylum Q2 2009 = 6,045.
        Total people refused asylum in Q2 2009 = 4154.
        So assuming that the figures are average for the whole year, you are only looking at a total of 7564 successful asylum seekers PER YEAR ! Hardly flooding the country.

        Also, the population of the UK in mid 2008 was around 61,383,000. That's 8.5 million less than you quoted. It would take over 1100 years for the "influx" of successful asylum seekers to make up the error in your figures. More people pass through Heathrow in a year (68 million) than actually live in the country. 7564 staying on is hardly significant.

        Maybe the problem is the same as always - divide and rule, and you're falling for it.

        Figures gained from the ICAR site [] referencing the official Home Office quarterly report [].
        Population figures from the National Statistics site [].
        Heathrow figures from the BBC. []
  • Gattaca (Score:4, Insightful)

    by exigentsky ( 771810 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @03:53AM (#29590283)
    It's not far.
  • by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @03:55AM (#29590295)
    Isn't the out of Africa theory based on the situation where there is as much genetic diversity in people within Africa as there is worldwide? There is no "Arab" gene, and even if there were consider that Saddam was born only about 300 miles due south of his very european hero Joseph Stalin.
    Security theatre snake oil strikes again in a fairly nasty and devisive way. You might as well screen people by height or just admit the predjudice and screen for skin colour because many people from Pakistan and India look like exactly like many dark haired europeans with a deep tan.
    Somebody is in it for the money and is playing off people's predjudices to get it.
    • by sqldr ( 838964 )

      Right, firstly, Saddam Hussein is not Arab, he is indo-european, as are the majority of persians. There isn't so much an Arab gene as a selection of genes which constitute the features associated with Arab ethnicity. There is, however, pan-arabism, which is a political ideology based around the arab ethnic group, which saddam hussein is not part of. Oh wait, you meant to say "muslims"! No, there isn't a muslim gene (although there is a belief that anyone born to muslim parents is automatically a muslim,

      • Saddam was most assuredly an Arab. Persians are mostly Iranian, not Iraqi. He hated them and fought against them for most of the 1980s.

    • "his very european hero Joseph Stalin."

      Yes, Hussein was a communist and the US was always Husseins enemy, and when he started an unprovoked war and used chemical weapons, the US condemned his actions.

  • Imagine the outcry (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Kleiba ( 929721 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @05:07AM (#29590689)

    ...if the country announcing such plans wasn't the UK, but Germany.

  • WTF (Score:4, Interesting)

    by moxley ( 895517 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:07AM (#29592951)

    What the fuck is going on over there?

    Seriously, cameras in people's homes to make sure their kids are being "properly parented;" testing DNA at the border to determine ethnicity (and who knows what else, because what does race have to do with nationality these days)... Branding children as future criminals at age 5 based on hyperactive or normal anti-social kid behavior....and there's more that I can't even remember now.

    England is becoming some nightmare 1984/Gattaca mashup...Brave New World indeed.

  • Hey, Free Energy! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by IonOtter ( 629215 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @10:15AM (#29593039) Homepage

    1. Dig up George Orwell from his grave.

    2. Hook him up to a generator.

    3. Watch him spin! (Wheeee!)

    4. Profit!

  • by FellowConspirator ( 882908 ) on Wednesday September 30, 2009 @11:10AM (#29593875)

    Even if you made the ludicrous assumption that they could consistently and accurately get meaningful results from the test (I wouldn't have that much faith in a government lab associated with the immigration office), there's the fundamental logical problem: your genes (physical composition) haven't much relation to your nationality.

    A lot of American citizens came from somewhere else. Israel will accept anyone that can properly document their jewishness (honestly, I have no idea what their criteria are) as a citizen.

    UK immigration rules are based on nationality, which is a mutable trait (I can change it, at will, with a certain amount of effort). Isotopic measures probably relate more to occupation than "origin", and your genetic history is an independent variable. My kids have dual nationalities, and if my wife and I adopted a child from abroad, it could have 3 or more. How would the genetic test effectively identify the provenance (in legal terms) of the child. A US citizen could easily be genetically tied to any country on the planet and be no less a US citizen than someone in Chicago.

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." -- Will Rogers