National DNA database

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A national DNA database is a government database of DNA profiles which can be used by law enforcement agencies to identify suspects of crimes.

DNA technology has proved to be a valuable investigative tool which has helped to exonerate the innocent and to bring those responsible for serious crimes to justice. The legislation that Parliament enacted to govern the use of this technology within the criminal justice system has been found by Canadian courts to be respectful of the constitutional and privacy rights of suspects, and of persons found guilty of designated offences.[1]

On December 11, 1999, The Canadian Government agreed upon the DNA Identification Act. This would allow a Canadian DNA data bank to be created and amended for the criminal code. This provides a mechanism for judges to request the offender to provide blood, buccal swabs, or hair samples from DNA profiles. This legislation became official on June 29, 2000. Canadian police has been using forensic DNA evidence for over a decade. It has become one of the most powerful tools available to law enforcement agencies for the administration of justice.[2]

DNA is highly discriminatory, which can make it a powerful tool in identifying individuals. Each person’s DNA is unique to them to the slight exception of identical twins.[2]

DNA can be extracted from small biological samples, such a few drops of blood, using modern technology. The sample can be analyzed, which creates a DNA profile that is used to identify the suspect. The analyzed DNA profile is then compared to an unknown DNA profile drawn from the Databank.[2]

The first government database (NDNAD) was set up by the United Kingdom in April 1995. The second one was set up in New Zealand.[3] 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. In Scotland, the law requires the DNA profiles of most people who are acquitted be removed from the database. In Sweden, only the DNA profiles of criminals who have spent more than two years in prison are stored. In Norway and Germany, court orders are required, and are only available, respectively, for serious offenders and for those convicted of certain offences and who are likely to reoffend. Forty-nine states in the USA, all apart from Idaho, store DNA profiles of violent offenders, and many also store profiles of suspects.[4] In 2005 the incoming Portuguese government proposed to introduce a DNA database of the entire population of Portugal.[5] However, after informed debate including opinion from the Portuguese Ethics Council[6] the database introduced was of just the criminal population.[7]

Scope of databases[edit]

The United States maintains the largest DNA database in the world, with the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) holding over 9 million records as of 2011.[8] The United Kingdom maintains the National DNA Database (NDNAD), which is of similar size. The size of this database, and its rate of growth, is giving concern to civil liberties and political groups in the UK,[9][10][11] where police have wide-ranging powers to take samples and retain them even in the event of acquittal.[12] Other countries have adopted privately developed DNA databases, such as Qatar, which has adopted Bode dbSEARCH.[13]

When a match is made from a national DNA database to link a crime scene to an offender who has provided a DNA sample to a database that link is often referred to as a cold hit. A cold hit is of value in referring the police agency to a specific suspect but is of less evidential value than a DNA match made from outside the DNA database.[14]

As of March 2011, 361,176 forensic profiles and 9,404,747 offender profiles have been accumulated,[15] making it the largest DNA database in the world. As of the same date, CODIS has produced over 138,700 matches to requests, assisting in more than 133,400 investigations.[16] The United Kingdom National DNA Database consisted of an estimated number 5,512,776 profiles of individuals as of March 2011.[17]

The growing public approval of DNA databases has seen the creation and expansion of many states' own DNA databases. California currently maintains the third largest DNA database in the world (naturally, as CODIS contains all states' database information). Political measures such as California Proposition 69 (2004), which increased the scope of the DNA database, have already met with a significant increase in numbers of investigations aided.

In order to decrease the number of irrelevant matches at NDIS, the Convicted Offender Index requires all 13 CODIS STRs to be present for a profile upload. Forensic profiles only require 10 of the STRs to be present for an upload.

The application of DNA databases have been expanded into two controversial areas: arrestees and familial searching. An arrestee is a person arrested for a crime and who has not yet been convicted for that offense. Currently, 21 states have passed legislation that allows law enforcement to take DNA from an arrestee and enter it into the state's CODIS DNA database to see if that person has a criminal record or can be linked to any unsolved crimes. In familial searching, the DNA database is used to look for partial matches that would be expected between close family members. This technology can be used to link crimes to the family members of suspects and thereby help identify a suspect when the perpetrator has no DNA sample in the database.[18][19]

DNA databases and medicine[edit]

Many countries collect newborn blood samples to screen for diseases mainly with a genetic basis. Mainly these are destroyed soon after testing. In some countries the dried blood (and the DNA) is retained for later tesing.

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.[20] But it is also used for DNA tests to identify deceased and suspected criminals.[21] Parents can request that the blood sample of their newborn is destroyed after the result of test is known.

DNA collection and human rights[edit]

In a judgement in December 2008, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that two British men should not have had their DNA and fingerprints retained by police saying that retention "could not be regarded as necessary in a democratic society".[22]

The DNA fingerprinting pioneer Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys condemned UK government plans to keep the genetic details of hundreds of thousands of innocent people in England and Wales for up to 12 years. Jeffreys said he was "disappointed" with the proposals, which came after a European court ruled that the current policy breaches people's right to privacy. Jefferys said "It seems to be as about as minimal a response to the European court of human rights judgment as one could conceive. There is a presumption not of innocence but of future guilt here … which I find very disturbing indeed".[23]

See also[edit]