Student Blog: DNA: A Single Strand the Government has on you

DNA is a chemical composed of two long molecules; it carries genetic information. Containing instructions that a living organism needs to grow, reproduce and function: simply a unique symbol of life. Forensic scientists can analyse small biological samples to develop a DNA profile to identify criminals or discover parentage.

I’m sure all avid crime drama watchers know DNA evidence is not only limited to the genetic fingerprint. TV series well represent forensic science when they get clues from the trace evidence (materials remaining from the crime), use DNA technology and forensic serology (study bodily fluids). DNA evidence counts as blood, hair, skin cells, and other bodily substances, similarly to fingerprints, each person has a distinctive DNA profile.

Fingerprinting depends on the type that is being discussed. A DNA fingerprint represents every cell, tissue, and organ of a person: proving it useful for identification and evaluation of the genetic information- DNA. Whereas an actual fingerprint is present on the fingerprints and can be altered by surgery or external influences, it would be a record of someone’s fingerprint in the system.

The National DNA Database is where someone’s DNA fingerprint is stored. The UK National DNA Database contains DNA profiles and DNA samples that law enforcement agencies can use to identify suspects of crimes. They draw every profile in the National DNA Database from a sample of human evidence, such as saliva or hair, collected from a crime scene or police suspects. Although the government database can benefit the police when eliminating suspects because of having information as solid evidence to determine someone is guilty of a crime, there are some ethical concerns about the database.

National DNA Databases are a typical example of a conflict of rights in society, the right of privacy of an individual and the right of security of the nation. Where an individual’s entitlement to what is a part of them (e.g., body) interferes with national security which is in the public’s interest because they are the majority. Here are a few ethical concerns people have:

  • Having a DNA database that was established in 1995 means there are over millions of DNA profiles. Meaning several violations of privacy and human rights.
  • The DNA stored on the databases aren’t provided voluntarily, an individual held in police custody has no say on whether they want their DNA sample included in the database. Police don’t need permission to take fingerprints or a DNA sample (e.g., mouth swab, hair root or swabbing surface of the skin). If you were to refuse, police may use reasonable force to obtain a DNA sample.
  • There is potential for government misuse, they may decide to keep surveillance on unfounded grounds or the government may search the identification of relatives: intruding on the family’s privacy rights.
  • According to the Government website, a person arrested with no previous convictions will normally have their fingerprints and DNA profile deleted from the national databases. However, the police can apply to the Biometrics Commissioner for permission to keep that material. If approved, they can keep the fingerprint or DNA profile for 3 years (from arrest). There are questions about what they are doing handling DNA information for that period other than for criminology, there’s a possibility they could share it with third parties.

There should be a discussion whether the benefits of genetic information to society outweigh the rights of individuals to control and safeguard information about themselves and prevent its use for involuntary reasons. This fascinating technology could harm someone’s livelihood, the implications of having a ‘criminal’ record can affect the treatment they have in society. Not only that, the data could be used against the individuals it represents:  there is an unbalanced representation of ethnic minorities and young males on forensic databases. Despite the benefits of crime reduction rates, this risk for bias within these databases isn’t acceptable. In my perspective, it’s not acceptable, especially in a contemporary society where we value righteous carriages of justice and equality under the law.

By Oluwafunmilayo, a Year 10 Student from Harris Academy Chafford Hundred

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