India becomes the eighth largest state seeking to build a blockchain-based DNA database of all 50 million of its citizens. 

The government of Andhra Pradesh, or AP, revealed a partnership to build the database with the German genomics and precision medicine company Shivom late last month, writes Gizmodo. Through doing so, the government hopes to use the database to improve medical treatment, helping prevent disease by spotting a person’s risk for it early on. This could be extremely important, bearing in mind that South Asian communities are generally underrepresented in DNA databases, and in most cases disease risk is ancestry-specific. For example, a lack of genetic information about South Asian people means a lack of research that could end up potentially identifying a person’s risk for cancer or even leading to cures for genetic disease. 

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However, the announcement actually comes at a time when India’s huge, nationwide biometric data collection programme is under scrutiny. The Aadhaar programme was created to with the intention of using biometric data, to help the government keep track of rural and poor populations that often escape government notice and ensure better delivery of services and subsidies. At present, over a billion Indians have enrolled, but concerns about the security of that data and the ways in which it could be exploited are mounting. One Indian newspaper reported even found that biometric data could be bought for a paltry sum over WhatsApp. Others are concerned to the extent that they believe the database is used to monitor all aspects of Indians’ lives.

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With India’s Aadhaar program already receiving so much scrutiny, there is concern that the new AP DNA database could face a similar backlash.

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