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Debate: National DNA database

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Should governments create a DNA database of all citizens?

Background and context

Arrested: Is databasing the DNA of the arrested alone insufficient?


  • 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."


  • 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.

Crime fighting: Is DNA databasing important to fighting crime?


  • 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.


  • 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.

Privacy: Does DNA databasing uphold the privacy of citizens?


  • 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.


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.

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