In our series showcasing Sweden as a country that likes to pretend it’s a white knight in shining armor for civil liberties while actually doing the exact opposite, we’ve arrived at the so-called PKU register. It’s a DNA database of the entire population born after 1975, used – among other things – for criminal investigations.
It sounded good. Starting in 1975, all hospitals would take a blood sample of every newborn baby to store in a vault for medical research, specifically to test for and track Phenylketonuria (PKU), which is an inability to metabolize phenylanaline (an indirect component of almost all diet sodas, among other things).
Medical research is good, right?
Following the high-profile murder of Anna Lindh in 2003, something odd surfaced with how the police confirmed the suspect killer. It turned out that police investigation laws, the laws that determine how police can walk in and seize evidence deemed relevant to an investigation, had overridden the medical secrecy for the PKU samples – and police had just walked in and seized the suspect’s blood sample, taken when he was born for medical purposes, to do a forensic DNA match. This was not the first time the medical blood sample database had been used as an investigative DNA register; it had been going on for a long time under the radar, at least since 1998.
So… going from being an archive for advanced medical research under consent, the vault had been repurposed by reinterpreting existing laws: the Swedish police now has a DNA database of the entire population born after 1975 at their disposal. No other country that I’m aware of has that comprehensive a DNA database of practically the entire sub-middle-aged civilian population.
It also highlights the dangers of database mission creep, when something collected for one purpose gets repurposed for something else – and that every piece of data collected by governments must be viewed in the light of its worst possible abuse.
Next in series: TBD (so much to choose from).
Previous: Private police forces.