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| by Victor Cherubim

( November 28, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) How often have we heard people say, that we should be aware, alarmed and furious at the process of surveillance ordinary people “experience” to protect their privacy. Recently, we were informed that there is no privacy even on the mobile phones of some leaders of friendly nations of the world! Was it that we have come to a stage that “no one trusts anyone anymore?” or is it a paranoia that has taken root and we have no capacity to shake off? To counter this argument, we also are told that the price politicians pay is their loss of their privacy.

Everywhere we note that in the name of protecting the public, governments use unscrupulous practices at the expense of the freedom of the individual. As David Ormond, lately of GCHQ, Cheltenham, UK’s monitoring agency defended: “Privacy is not an unequal right.” At the same time if we accept this position, surely then it is equally reasonable to expect that the custodians, who wield so much power on the people, have to exercise their power responsibly.

Need we say that with the technological capability in today’s world, no one would deny,

Information is power. However, potential power of the State matters, but how about the

“power over life or death” used sometimes lethally and unethically by many other professions, the most obvious being the medical profession. Some medics have the power to switch off life support mechanisms, on the basis of their individual judgment, that “life has no meaning.”

Dual Use Research

I wish to draw the attention of the reader to the theme of “dual use research” which is practiced in many Genome laboratories around the globe. Dual use research means exploratory work that could have both beneficial as well as dangerous consequences. This is the so called “biological revolution” that is hidden from us, but which is “surreptitiously” taking place, mostly undercover, in research centres in the most developed of nations.

We know the 19th century was noted for advances in engineering – to deal with the subject of physics. We know the 20th century dealt with advances in Information Technology and advances in Chemistry. What we do not fully understand or appreciate is that with the dawn of the 21st century, mankind is slowly but surely going in the direction of a Biological Revolution.

Biological Revolution

“Biology has taken predominance, with the biologist becoming an engineer, Coding new Life forms as desired. We are informed that all the key barriers to the artificial synthesis of viruses and bacteria have been overcome, at least on a proof of principle basis.”

This biological revolution is the potential power of the researcher. With or without checks and balances on access to information on Genome Technology, observers believe that there is a serious threat, not dissimilar to privacy of the individual, but much more dangerous power

being spawned in laboratories, making GCHQ or National Security Agency (NSA) in the States, pale in comparison.

Does the end justify the means?

We as a human race have now the power and the proper DNA units that can code life forms.

This all embracing biological revolution has researched many codes but the one according to some researchers that is frightening is the tampering with DNA itself.

The most difficult part that concerns us in the underdeveloped world and this applies to us in Sri Lanka as well, is water pollution. We are reliably informed by research biologists that, “the most difficult part is to put the DNA components in a sensible sequence –this is called epidemiological surveillance.”

To many of us as laymen, we have no clue of this theory. We have to blindly accept what research has been done on introducing healthy bacteria in our water systems to detect whether our water is contaminated or not. By luminescence or so called “arsenic sensing,” researchers now maintain surveillance, which can be either switched on or off, at their command.

Cutting Edge Technology

Scientists have used DNA to create genetically engineered cells and organisms for many years –mixing and matching genetic material with the goal of creating novel plants and animals with desirable traits.

“What differentiates this research today is the ability to design and create new genetic systems from ground up.”

Whilst we are all worried about individual freedom, something more serious is taking place which many researchers believe should attract our attention. “Now that synthetic biology is here to stay, the challenge is how to ensure bio-security. We have a duty how to ensure that future generations see its emergence as a boom and ensure it does not “boomerang.”