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Debate: National DNA database

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Should governments create a DNA database of all citizens?

Background and context

A national DNA database is a government database of DNA profiles which can be used by law enforcement agencies to identify suspects of crimes. The first government datatabase (NDNAD) was set up by the United Kingdom in April 1995. The second one was set up in New Zealand. France set up the FNAEG in 1998.
In the USA, the FBI has organized the CODIS database. Originally intended for sex offenders, they have since been extended to include almost any criminal offender. In England and Wales, anyone arrested on suspicion of a recordable offence must submit a DNA sample, the profile of which is then stored on the DNA database as a permanent record. Such a system, in which the DNA of criminals are databased (or some variation of this), have been around for years in many countries. Yet, many are now calling for national DNA databases that would include the DNA of any and all citizens regardless of whether they have been arrested and convicted of a crime. Portugal, for example, has plans to introduce a DNA database of its entire population. In Denmark, the Danish Newborn Screening Biobank at Statens Serum Institut keeps a blood sample from people born after 1981. The purpose is to test for Phenylketonuria and other diseases. But it is also used for DNA tests to identify diseased and suspected criminals. The potential utility to crime-fighting efforts and cross-population health studies have caused many individuals, politicians, and organizations to call for national DNA databases. Yet, many oppose the idea, considering it a violation of privacy rights. Other concerns include the price-tag of collecting DNA data and maintaining a DNA database. These and other arguments in this heated public debate are outlined below.


Contents

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Arrested: Is databasing DNA of arrested alone insufficient?

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Pro

  • Databasing only the DNA of the arrested is too arbitrary Gavin Phillipson. "The case for a complete DNA database." Guardian. November 19, 2009: "The problem with the government's approach is that it uses the criterion of whether you happen to have been arrested – even for a fairly trivial offence. This means that ethnic minorities, subject to disproportionately higher levels of arrest, end up over-represented: it's estimated that 40% of black men are on the database. Because being on the database is linked with having been arrested, it becomes a stigma, a taint of suspicion. It also means that when DNA evidence is recovered from a crime scene, whether there is a match depends, arbitrarily, upon whether the perpetrator happens to have been arrested before. Justice becomes a matter of chance."


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Con

  • DNA database should only be subjected to former criminals. DNA databasing only of the arrested is justified. There is a high propensity of a former criminal to re-commit a crime. The DNA profiles of the arrested are sufficient to solve crime cases. Ordinary citizens who have not been convicted of a crime should be given the privilege to keep their personal data private. The problem of overrepresentation of ethnic minorities in the DNA database is really not a problem since only the guilty are on the database. The innocent are spared no matter what their ethnicity is.
  • General statements against DNA databases A judge from the European Court of Human rights ruled in a 2008 court case involving two innocent British men whose DNA was retained by police that DNA databases "could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society".[1]
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Crime fighting: Is DNA databasing important to fighting crime?

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Pro

  • DNA databasing is invaluable technology for solving crimes. Gavin Phillipson. "The case for a complete DNA database." Guardian. November 19, 2009: "DNA is an invaluable technology in solving serious crime." This is because DNA is left at the scene of almost every crime. This makes it possible to determine, with a national database, exactly who was at the scene of the crime, and to immediately narrow the list of suspects from potentially thousands, to usually just a couple of individuals. This makes it much more possible to find, try, and convict criminals, to execute justice, and to protect other citizens.



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Con

  • DNA detection may not always be accurate. There is a significant portion of crimes where no DNA data has been found. Criminals can avoid leaving samples by taking a number of precautions. Although DNA detection may be useful in solving crimes, the test has its own inaccuracies. Environmental factors such as heat, sunlight, bacteria are capable of corrupting the genetic data. Criminals are getting savvier and inclined to technological advantages. They have the ability to contaminate samples by, for instance, swapping saliva. There is also room for human error in comparing saliva samples taken from suspects with those extracted from a crime scene. Even a complete DNA profile is not able to track down the time length the suspect was present at the crime scene or date.


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Privacy: Does DNA databasing uphold the privacy of citizens?

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Pro

  • DNA databasing protects citizens/rights by imprisoning criminals. One of the most important obligations of government is, indeed, to protect the rights of citizens. In so far as DNA databases help solve crimes, they certainly help protect citizens and their property and rights, including the right of victims to justice. This more than makes up for any more minor privacy rights violated by mandatory DNA databasing, making it a net gain for individual rights.
  • DNA database does not impede private acts of individuals. While the main argument against a national DNA database is that it violates the right to privacy, this argument does not hold up well to scrutiny. The mere act of collecting DNA information does not in any way violate the rights of individuals to act in any way they choose in their own private lives. It does not create any added means or incentive for the government to enter into these private affairs, but only allows the government to identity an individual that has gone beyond their private rights, and violated the rights of other citizens, through the commission of some crime.


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Con

  • One thing for authority, others for civilians. It's one thing for the police authority to have access to a vast database of every civilians' DNA, but it's quite another for civilians to have the access. The database's information might be misused, abused, or used to frame a crime to someone else. If DNA database is open to civilians, there will be more harm done than good done.
  • A DNA database for everyone will be too intrusive. A DNA database should only be subjected to former criminals who have been convicted of a crime. The innocent should be given the immunity to keep their personal information to themselves. Creating a nation-wide database will be both intrusive and offensive. With so much data in their hands, government authorities possess immense power and control of the state’s citizens. In states where governments are corrupt, there may be misuse and abuse of this information which may very well lead to false convictions. Collection DNA data of every citizen also questions the civil liberties within a liberal democracy and whether individuals' rights truly are protected. The case also raises ethical issues. The Sheffield case is one example which proves why it is unethical to keep DNA samples of innocent people. Keeping their DNA samples creates room for suspicion. The innocent are doubted for crimes which they have not committed.
  • DNA databases could expose personal information in unanticipated ways. Professor Stephen Bain, a member of the national DNA database strategy board: "If the information about you is exposed due to illegal or perhaps even legalised use of the database, in a way that is not currently anticipated, then it's a very difficult situation."[2]


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Abuse: Could a DNA database avoid resulting in government abuse?

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Pro

  • No realistic ways in which government would abuse DNA database. "A National DNA Database?" Angry Harry. January 21, 2009: "why are civil libertarians so scared of a national DNA database? How, exactly, do they think that state officials are going to use such a database to abuse their powers? After all, the fact that someone has access to a genetic database coded in 1's and 0's on a computer does not mean that they can actually create the DNA in a test tube and, perhaps, plant it somewhere. Indeed, if someone wants to plant someone else's DNA, say, at the scene of a crime, then this is already very easy to do. They simply need to obtain just a tiny sample of some small part of them and put it there!"
  • DNA database would make government/police abuses more difficult. "A National DNA Database?" Angry Harry. January 21, 2009: "a national DNA database would make it far more difficult for those with power to abuse it. After all, the more that valid information is available, the less difficult it is to cover up one's tracks - state official or not."
  • Only criminals should worry about their DNA samples being on file. Sam West. "Keep my DNA on file." BBC. November 11, 2009: "I had my DNA sampled, they took a cheek swab from me. I didn't really mind at the time. And I have no problem with them keeping my DNA profile indefinitely. I would have thought that the only people worried about this happening are those who think that they may be likely to commit a crime in the future. I appreciate there is a case for "innocent until proven guilty". But if you're innocent - why worry?"


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Con

  • Weapons against people opposing the government. Since the government will obviously be in control of the DNA database, they will be surely granted access to information regarding every citizen in the country. Of course, there will always be citizens against the government, and now with their DNA in the government's database, the government can and will trace whatever information they need on the individual(s) to discredit their current stance against the government. E.g. possible criminal records and links, history of possible psychological illnesses, etc.


  • Governments can and do abuse data. We don't need to speculate about whether DNA databases could be abused or not, because in the UK the government and its agencies have already demonstrated very convincingly and repeatedly that they are not able to keep our data secure.
  • If you're innocent, you should be worried. DNA information is extremely personal and valuable - whether it gets into the hands of criminals or insurance companies.
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Disease: Does national DNA database improve fight on diseases?

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Pro


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Con

The abuses by our government are legion, to give them one more thing to abuse is ridiculous. We are talking about a government that can't seem to afford to feed and clothe it's own citizens, but can spend 'hundreds of billions of dollars' playing Superman for the rest of the world. The amount of money we spend on our military could EASILY be used to care for feed the millions who are dying inside our own countries borders from starvation. Let alone disease and all the other issues. But instead, this same government spends $800,000 per Tomahawk missile and has fired several million dollars worth of them to kill innocents in Libya?!
The medical repercussions are too twisted to even consider. With corporations currently "copyrighting" the DNA of countless newly discovered organisms, it won't be long till we have to get licensed to breed in order to avoid copyright infringement.
As long as we utilize a capitalist system, trusting our government for anything is tantamount to surrending our civil liberties. Period.

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Economics: What are the economic pros and cons of DNA database?

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Pro

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Con

  • Costs involved for processing. Processing DNA does take quite an amount of time and especially money, because of the facilities and lab apparatus involved that need government funding. From the government's point of view, they'd have to establish new departments within their existing civil services to be in-charge of managing the DNA database. These new departments will also consume the government's budget in terms of upgrading facilities, salaries of staff, staff training, etc.
  • The taxpayers are funding it.It would cost a lot of tax payers money to make and to test everyone.
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Pro/con sources

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Con


See also

External links and resources

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