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DNA Profiling And Associated Concerns


  • G.S. Paper 3

Why in news?

  • According to the National Crime Records Bureau, only about a quarter of rape cases ended in conviction in 2016. These rates are low in other countries too.
  • The outrage over these attacks has reinforced the belief that India needs a sex offenders’ database or a DNA database of those accused and charged with rape.
  • However building a DNA database is not easy, and it does not always offer justice, and is an ethical landmine.

Concerns regarding using DNA profiling

Civil liberties and rights:

  • Protecting innocent people’s privacy and their civil liberties and rights are the main concerns e.g. the police sometimes may use DNA dragnets whereby all the people in a community are persuaded to give their saliva or blood in order to identify a possible suspect amongst them.
  • Such samples later get included in forensic DNA databanks, thus violating people’s civil liberties.

Planting of DNA:

  • Planting of DNA in a crime scene, misinterpretation of tests, and errors in analyses is another cause of concern regarding DNA profiling.

Phantom DNA:

  • Everybody leaves traces of DNA in numerous places, as cells are shed, leading to ridiculous mistakes such as the Phantom of Heilbronn (when the German police admitted that a woman they were searching for more than 15 years based on DNA traces at crime scenes never in fact existed).

DNA data mining:

  • Dangers of misuse as how our digital data is being used by Data mining companies today.

Targeting of particular groups:

  • Targeting of particular communities, groups based on race, ethnicity or color etc.

Unethical ways of DNA collection:

  • In a number of cases, the police may follow persons they suspect and then gather their DNA secretly (for example, by taking a bottle or cup they were drinking from) and without warrants.
  • Collecting this so-called “abandoned DNA” has been challenged as being clearly unethical and unlawful.
  • Police bias towards minorities: Law enforcement is responsible for gathering DNA for forensics, and police bias towards minorities leads to the latter’s over-representation in the DNA databanks

Chance of False positive increases with number

  • Experience with the U.K. and U.S. databanks has shown that having more innocent people’s DNA stored increases the chances of a false positive and has not increased the chances of finding a guilty match.

Amidst these concerns then the question arises: How can DNA information be used in a way that respects the rights of people and their privacy?

  • It is absolutely essential that the people from whom DNA is taken give their informed consent; taking DNA surreptitiously should be prohibited.
  • A court order should be required for obtaining DNA without informed consent and the DNA should only be compared with the crime scene DNA for the suspect.
  • Those who are cleared for a crime should not have their DNA information stored, and DNA gathered from offenders should be destroyed after identification so that such information is not used for profiling in future.
  • A court order should be necessary to access medical records for genetic data.

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