The use of DNA databases is spreading all over the world and this has resulted in a greater need to increase the size of the databases in each country. However, there should be a point at which these databases distinguish between samples of innocent and convicted individuals, and samples of the former should be removed after a certain period to avoid the issues that will be faced as mentioned in this paper. Background
The National DNA Database (NDNAD) is a repository of DNA samples for the United Kingdom, which is one of the leading users of the DNA database in the world for the purpose of crime detection and prevention (Privacy International, 2006). The NDNAD is usually used to collect samples of DNA from crime scenes, whether the samples are of the victims, innocent bystanders, or of the criminals. As of June 2007, the total number of individuals’ DNA profiles stored in the database was around 3.
97 million, but that figure did not include only those individuals who were convicted of the crime (Stationery Office, 2009). The database also maintains records of innocent people who were arrested for an offence but later acquitted, those who were not charged, and those against home charges were dropped, regardless of the severity of the offence. The controversy lay not in the gathering of DNA in an attempt to solve crimes, but rather the maintenance of that data beyond the life of the case, regardless of the level of innocence of the individuals whose DNA was collected.
This practice was decreed unlawful under Section 64 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984, but was later ammended with Section 64 (1A) by the Criminal Justice and Police Act of 2001 to allow DNA to be retained indefinitely beyond the purposes the DNA was originally gathered for initially (Pitt-Payne, 2009). This practice of maintaining records of DNA profiles of innocent people for a very long time led to an appeal against it in the courts of the UK where it was defeated soundly.
The case was finally brought before the Grand Chamber of the European Court where it finally succeeded in its bid to prove the practice as a breach of privacy of citizens (Cragg, & Mahy, 2009). Positive Issues ‘Cold Cases’ and Post Convictions DNA has been successfully used to solve cases that were previously unsolved for large periods, to the extent that efforts to close these cases became largely routine. With DNA samples, these cases can now be closed as was done in Austin, Texas where DNA from a phonecord was used to identify the assailant of a strangled victim (Houck, 2008).
In addition, closing these cases means that a lot of resources will be freed up from ‘cold cases’, allowing greater attention towards other unsolved cases (Shoester, 2006). DNA has also been found useful in exonerating wrongfully incarcerated individuals and lead to their release from prison. Late as some of these exonerations might be in coming for these individuals, it is still a step in the right direction, and it is hoped that with DNA databases, not only will detectives waste less time on investigating innocent individuals but they will not be wrongfully convicted either (Shoester, 2006). Preventables and Mass Disasters
Whereas a DNA database cannot prevent perpetrators from committing a crime in the first instance, it can be used to determine a suspect who can then be monitored or removed to prevent future instances of crimes by that individual (Shoester, 2006). Though it might come too late for the families or individuals affected by their criminal activities in the first instance, it does prevent these crimes from spreading to others. Often in cases such as hurricanes, floods, or earthquakes there is a large loss of life and missing persons, so it is the duty of the medical examiners on the scene to verify the identity of the bodies recovered.
In cases of wrongful identification there may be legal and emotional consequences, which medical examiners can avoid by using DNA databases as opposed to physical marks of identification, which are less reliable in such cases (Houck, 2008). Negative Issues DNA The DNA of an individual contains a significant amount of personal information that can be gathered from analyzing a sample. Through it, one can determine anything and everything, as per the constraints of modern technology and belief: from the possibility of diseases, to the sexual orientation of the individual.
Therefore, DNA presents analysts a look into the lives of individuals who might not necessarily look too favourably upon such an intimate look into their personal domains. This scenario seems particularly alarming when the level of protection granted to the distribution, analysis of DNA samples is considered in each state in the USA – from complete protection, to none at all – presenting the possibility of abuse of personal information (Lazer, 2004). Breach of privacy The biggest argument against the maintenance of DNA profiles is the breach of privacy of the individuals.
As mentioned above, DNA allows analysts with the right technology and know-how to get an intimate look into individuals’ lives. It is for this and other reasons that the European Court decided against the retention of DNA for an indefinite period by the UK government – more precisely, for the breach of Article 8(1) of the European Convention of Human Rights – especially since the UK was the only country to implement such an indefinite retention policy in the EU (Pitt-Payne, 2009).
Ethical In some cases DNA could be used to reveal relationships that some individuals might not want to know off or reveal to others, which would constitute an intrusion of familial privacy (Nuffield Council on BioEthics, 2007). Apart from that, the error of innocent matches when comparing DNA is significantly underestimated because the statistics are not defined properly to the layman, which includes the jury in some cases (Privacy International, 2006).
It must be kept in mind that a match of DNA from a crime scene merely proves the presence of the individual at the scene of the crime, but not whether the person was guilty beyond all reasonable doubt or not. Scientists are often used to present this data, which lends an air of respectability and believability to the DNA match that tends to remove whatever doubts the jury should have had as objective decision makers. No proof of success While there has been a lot of noise about the success of the collection of DNA in capturing criminals, there is still little to prove how that success is related to the samples of DNA stored in databases.
The overall crime detection rate has remained lower for the UK than for Scotland, despite the latter having a more limited retention policy. So in essence, it can be gathered that the storage of a large amount of DNA does not improve the chances of solving crimes; in fact, the storage and subsequent maintenance might actually incur expenses that might have been better utilized in alternative means of solving crimes (Stationery Office, 2009) Stigma
The continued storing of DNA samples in the ‘criminal database’ might lend itself to suggest that individuals who were suspected but not convicted of a crime might be considered guilty until proven innocent by the mere fact that their DNA was maintained in the database along with that of convicts and criminals. It could be argued that it is not the same as being labelled a suspect, but the fact that the samples are being retained suggests that the authorities are suspicious about whether or not the individuals DNA might show up as a match later in some other crime.
This stigma is a special source of worry for minors whose roles in society dictates that they be dealt with sensitively so as not to retard their development and successful integration into society (Privacy International, 2008). Function Creep It is gradually being witnessed how law enforcement agencies are beginning to expand the categories of samples that they gather and store. Starting from sex offenders, the practice has emerged to gather DNA samples from not just all convicts or offenders, but to do so from all arrestees, despite their being acquitted of the crime for which the sample was originally taken (Lazer, 2004).
This function creep is reminiscent of the use of Social Security Numbers as a means of identification, as opposed to its original use as an aid for the retirement plan that was introduced at the time of its invention (Lazer, 2004). Conclusion While it may be argued that DNA databases are significantly useful for solving crimes and in cases of missing persons in mass disasters, it does not by any means signify that the database can be misused for other purposes.
There is huge potential for abuse of databases, especcially where the database consists of samples from convicts and criminals, as well as arrestees. Considering that there is no proof of improved success in matching from a long term retention policy, the rights of individuals must be safeguarded and DNA samples should be retired from the database after a period of time, especially for individuals who are innocent, and have not been convicted.