Thursday, 8 October 2009

The Human Provenance Project

DNAImage by Mark Cummins via Flickr
By freemovement

It sounds like the title of a dystopian science fiction film, and it is every bit as bad as it sounds. The first I heard of it was on 14th September 2009 after this letter was circulated to UKBA stakeholders. I had a little rant about it at the time in another forum, complaining there was something unpleasantly eugenicist about it, lamenting the daft liberal arts graduates who approved it who understand neither science nor statistics and suggesting they start measuring skull size and penis length for good measure.

Free Movement is a proud graduate in, er, history, incidentally.

The Human Provenance Project involves taking tissue samples from asylum claimants, including children. This is only done by ‘consent’, but the policy document that UKBA has published makes it quite clear that failure to give consent will count against a claimant:
If an asylum applicant refused to provide samples for the isotope analysis and DNA testing the case owner could draw a negative inference as to the applicant’s credibility and if appropriate apply Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004. Section 8 states that where an asylum applicant has behaved in way that is designed or likely to conceal information or mislead the UK Border Agency; it could be seen as damaging the applicant’s credibility.
Bold claims are made in the policy document. The tissue samples ‘voluntarily’ handed over will be subject to isotope analysis. The science is held out as the miracle solution to disputed nationality cases:
Isotope analysis is based on a forensic technique which was pioneered during the ‘Adam Torso’ case – a police case in which a child’s torso was found in the Thames too mutilated to offer any kind of identification… In this case the child’s body was traced to a small Nigerian town in an area about 100 x 50 km wide.
To be fair, the document does state that the Adam Torso case involved bone testing, and that even UKBA thinks that taking bone samples might be a little intrusive. What is not stated is that instead UKBA seem to be relying on a very different form of isotope analysis to that used in the Adam Torso case, which is far less accurate and cannot possibly help determine nationality with any useful degree of accuracy.

This first started to emerge in the blogosphere but is now hitting the mainstream media. There are also items about it here, here and here worth reading.

One would hope that even arts graduate immigration and other judges wouldn’t give any test results the time of day given all this adverse scientist reaction. One also has to wonder (a) how much money UKBA has spent on this and (b) what idiots thought it was a good idea and then what idiots approved it. And what subjects they studied at university.

I’ll end by noting how dishonest the policy document is. It very clearly seeks to suggest that the test results are far more accurate than they actually are. In nearly ten years of doing this work I can’t remember seeing clearer proof of UKBA deceit. This kind of debacle does the organisation no favours, to put it mildly.
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