Alarm bells are ringing in Northern Europe, over the Estonian government’s latest attempt to take a massive number of genetic samples from its citizens.
Science, technology, and a government have usually been the perfect trifecta in every dystopian sci-fi thriller, as elected/unelected officials tend to gravitate towards all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful — over the mindless masses who unknowingly surrender their freedoms for comfort.
This seems to already be the case in the tiny former Soviet nation of Estonia, as its leaders have pushed for all things digital. The government has made it a top priority to embrace blockchain technology, provide internet access to all, and embark on the complete digitization of its citizens on one large platform — all owned by the government. So, it comes as no surprise, when the Estonian government has been quick to move in the creation of a biological database that collects DNA sequences of its citizen. Through mass surveillance programs, Estonian government will not only know what their citizens are searching on the internet, but will also have the knowledge of personal genetic information: ancestry charts, genetic composition, health history, and anything else that can be extracted from an Estonian’s double helix. So much knowledge in one organization is absolutely terrifying.
Starting immediately, the Estonian government will publicly launch the program to recruit and genotype 100,000 residents of the country as part of its National Personalized Medicine campaign. In the first run, the government projects an eight percent DNA grab of its total population. If successful, all indications are pointing to more massive grabs, as government officials are racing to construct its national DNA database.
The genetic testing initiative is a joint development program of the Ministry of Social Affairs, the National Institute for Health Development and the Estonian Genome Center of the University of Tartu, which currently maintains the nation’s DNA database of around 50,000 citizens.
In return for the precious genetic information, the Estonian government will offer citizens personalized health information that could prevent future illnesses. Each participant will receive a personalized genetic report, which offers lifestyle and health advice based on genetics. The reports can only be accessed on the government’s national e-health portal.
“The government wants to develop its healthcare system by offering all its residents genome-wide genotyping that will be translated into personalized reports for use in everyday medical practice through the national e-health portal. The country has many encrypted digital solutions incorporated into government functions that link the nation’s various databases through end-to-end encrypted pathways.”
“Today we have enough knowledge about both the genetic risk of complex diseases and the interindividual variability of the effects of medicines in order to start using this information systematically in everyday healthcare,” said Jevgeni Ossinovski, Minister of Health and Labour. “In cooperation with the National Institute for Health Development and the University of Tartu, we will enable another 100,000 people to join the Estonian biobank, in order to boost the development of personalized medicine in Estonia and thus contribute to the advancement of preventive healthcare.”
According to Estonian Genome Center of the University of Tartu, the Estonian Government has “allocated 5 million euros for the initiative during 2018.”
“The project will be coordinated by the National Institute for Health Development, whose task is to develop and implement procedures and principles for the effective implementation of scientific research in medicinal practice.”
Paula Dowdy, Senior Vice President and General Manager, Illumina, Europe, Middle East, and Africa said:
“As the technology provider for the Estonian Genome Center, Illumina is delighted that this ambitious project has reached this stage. Using our InfiniumTM Global Screening Array to further develop personalized medicine in Estonia will provide physicians with genomic information that will lead to better health outcomes in the future.”
Andres Metspalu, Director of the Estonian Genome Center at the University of Tartu, embraces the genetic initiative to triple the size of its national DNA database.
“We are glad that with the support of this project the results of the long-term work of the Genome Center will be transferred into practical medicine, and it will also give a further boost for our future research. The university will also contribute to the creation of a feedback system for the biobank participants, and to training healthcare professionals to give patients feedback based on genetic information.”
As it now stands, the Estonian government publicly launched the first phase of a massive DNA grab that aims to acquire genetic information from 8 percent of the total population. While it is still unknown why the government is suddenly rushing to triple the size of its DNA database, there is a risk that future DNA grabs could become mandatory. All of Europe should be watching the developments currently unfolding in Estonia because government DNA grabs could be coming to a region near you.