The international police agency Interpol listed 54 nations with national police DNA databases in 2009, including Australia, Canada, France, Germany and China. Brazil and India have since announced plans to join the club, and the United Arab Emirates intends to build the world’s first database of an entire national population.
The biggest database is in the United States – the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, which holds information on more than 11 million people suspected of or convicted of crimes.
It is set to grow following a May Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of police forces to take DNA swabs without a warrant from people who are arrested, not just those who are convicted. (Policies on DNA collection vary by state; more than half of the states and the federal government currently take DNA swabs after arrests.)
The court’s justices were divided about implications for individuals’ rights. Justice Anthony Kennedy, for the five-judge majority, called the taking of DNA a legitimate and reasonable police booking procedure akin to fingerprinting.
But dissenting Justice Antonin Scalia argued that it marked a major change in police powers. “Because of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason,” he said.
A similar note of caution has been struck by Alec Jeffreys, the British geneticist whose 1984 discovery of DNA fingerprinting revolutionized criminal investigations. He has warned that “mission creep” could see authorities use DNA to accumulate information on people’s racial origins, medical history and psychological profile.
Erlich agreed that scenario was possible, if not likely.
“If it’s not regulated and the police can do whatever they want … they can use your DNA to infer things about your health, your ancestry, whether your kids are your kids,” he said.<< previous 1 2 3 4 5 next >>