Gathan Beaga


Every New Zealand child, at birth, has a small blood sample taken on a piece of card for the purposes of testing for certain congenital diseases.

What’s probably less well known, is that the cards are kept by the Health Ministry forever. Given the advances in DNA testing, what this really constitutes is a comprehensive yet informal DNA database of New Zealand citizens.

I bet you didn’t know that. And neither did I. Although the Privacy Commissioner wrote an extensive report on this three years ago.

So that it seems that, under certain circumstances, the cards are available to the police. The newpaper today talks about a Memorandum of Understanding reached between the Ministry of Health and the police on rules of access to the cards. Some agreement has to be better than none, as the Privacy Commissioner is quoted as saying, but still, what have they agreed on?

There some obvious and useful applications of this database – the media articles mention the identification of bodies as one such – but it’s easy to imagine this being used as a vast dragnet in all sorts of criminal investigations, testing thousands of people without their knowledge or consent. But maybe that’s just me and my tinfoil hat talking.

Either way, I should see if this gets reported further and in more detail. I’m not a big fan of this sort of thing.