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National DNA Databasing


In this day and age of fact-finding and data collection, most of us will likely be referenced in a computer somewhere within the information superhighway. Whether tagged by our social security number, our credit history report, or simply by an item we purchased online, chances are we are recorded in someone’s database.

Most of us are ok with sharing private information such as our credit card number or home address just as long as it is guarded and kept confidential from those who could misuse it–but what if the database we’re listed in references our very own and very personal DNA profile? If that information had the potential to link us to a crime such as a burglary or even homicide, would we still freely hand it over to someone who requested it?

In March of 1992 the Federal Bureau of Investigation established the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS)—the national DNA database. The CODIS system began with 13 pilot DNA testing laboratories servicing 49 states, and as of October 2007, now encompasses 182 laboratories servicing all 50 states. The program enables laboratories across the United States to share and compare DNA profiles in connection with various crimes or unidentified human remains. CODIS uses a central database for all participating laboratories. The system is made up of three levels of operation, including shared databases from local, state, and federal authorities. When a participating forensic laboratory obtains a DNA profile from crime scene evidence the profile is then uploaded to CODIS so that it can be shared with other law enforcement agencies. To date CODIS contains over 5.2 million convicted offender and forensic profiles.

The U.S. is not alone in the implementation of a national DNA database. Countries such as the United Kingdom, Norway, Belgium and Canada are also considered leaders in the use of DNA technology for the advancement of criminal investigations. The United Kingdom currently has 5.2% of its population recorded in their national DNA Database and continues to grow it monthly by 30,000 profiles, making it the most inclusive in the world. Since 2004, U.K. policy has been to obtain DNA data of anyone arrested for a recordable offense, regardless of: their age, level of severity, or conviction of the offense. Though feasible, it is virtually impossible for a person found innocent of a crime in Great Britain to have their information withdrawn from the database once it has been added. Operating with great success, the database is responsible for solving approximately 20,000 crimes a year, so the urgency of removing anyone’s information is not a priority for regulators. In addition, the United Kingdom is leading the development of an international database and the standardization of all DNA testing. Their efforts have been met with acceptance from numerous countries across the globe, including the United States.

Although there are no plans currently to implement any type of voluntary or mandatory DNA Database in the United States or United Kingdom, keep in mind one thing:

No government, having established a forensic DNA database, has ever reversed course and reduced the scope of inclusion for that database. Expansion of criteria for database inclusion has been the only direction taken by jurisdictions in amending or updating their forensic DNA laws.

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