The Council for Responsible Genetics, GeneWatch UK, and Privacy International have joined together for “a project that seeks to achieve a direct impact on the human rights standards adopted for DNA database legislation across the world.” They have created new information resources that outline the global growth of DNA databases and the human rights issues implicated by their dramatic expansion.
The groups explain the privacy and civil liberty problems in “Forensic DNA Databases and Human Rights“:
The use of forensic DNA databases by law enforcement agencies around the globe is expanding unchecked at an alarming rate and efforts are underway to harmonize them. Resources must be mobilized to establish strong standards and universal safeguards for this most invasive form of surveillance and profiling.
A crime prevention tool that was originally intended only to identify the most dangerous convicted felons on a case by case basis, DNA collection and analysis is now routinely being used for a multiplicity of purposes that pose significant privacy and civil rights concerns to every citizen. DNA is far different from other methods of identification such as fingerprints. It is a window into an individual’s medical history and that of their entire family. From the permanent retention of DNA samples of individuals never convicted of a crime, to DNA “dragnets” devoid of individualized suspicion and weak safeguards for the information once it is collected, the issues raised by the expanding use of DNA databanks pose a very serious threat to democracy. […]
DNA databases around the world vary widely on issues ranging from access and consent to retention of both DNA samples themselves as well as the computerized profiles created from them. Countries, including the UK and the United States have used their DNA databases to match samples taken in “DNA dragnets” of individuals without probable cause simply because of their proximity to a crime scene. These countries and others have used “familial searching” of databases for potential links between individuals whose DNA is already in the database with family members whose DNA is not. In the United States, a few cases have already been reported where dubious science has been used to conduct “racial analysis” of crime scene evidence.
The threats to privacy and democracy worldwide posed by the rapid growth of DNA databases are heightened by the growing effort to link all these databases into one international database.
The groups offer detailed data on and offer solutions to the problems in a “Guide to Forensic DNA Databases Worldwide” (pdf):
This briefing is intended to provide people with the information that they need in order to understand how DNA databases are built and used and the implications for their rights. Its starting point is that safeguards are needed and that ordinary citizens should have a say in how these safeguards are developed. It describes:
- How DNA databases are built, by the collection and retention of DNA samples and computer records
- Their role in solving crimes
- Expansions in uses
- The implications for privacy and human rights
- Impacts on children, ethnic minorities and other vulnerable people
- Safeguards that can be adopted