In this Research Paper, the reader will be able to learn what is the meaning, the purpose, and how DNA databases are used. DNA databases are not just lists of DNA collected by law enforcement from individuals and crime scenes, and they are also created by profit and non-profit organizations. This paper also has my personal opinion as the author, in which I am not aiming to persuade you, I am aiming to inform you on why I believe that DNA databases have to be expanded upon but first must be regulated for the time being. Any abbreviations that I have used, I have also defined them within the paper itself.
DNA Data Bases are a means of searching and comparing evidence from crime new crime scenes to preexisting crime scenes. DNA databases make it easier for law enforcement to identify suspects with biological evidence. Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is a self-replicating material that is present in all living organisms, and it is the carrier of genetic information. DNA can be found anywhere in which a person has been in contact with someone or something. DNA can be classified as both direct and circumstantial evidence because it can tell whether that person was there, not whether they committed the crime or not. Finding DNA is easy, but finding the source is a long and tedious process, that is why DNA Databases have been created all over the world.
There are two different databases with the same name that collect human and canine DNA; these databases’ names are CODIS. CODIS stands for Combined DNA Index System, and the primary reason for having a canine CODIS is to fight the constant threat of dogfighting and is a non-profit organization. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) alongside the Humane Society of Missouri, Louisiana SPCA, and the University of California have created the first-ever DNA database to fight the crime of dogfighting. (Dogfighting Database) This Canine CODIS is similar to the FBI’s human CODIS, and it consists of DNA profiles from dogs who were seized or from unknown samples collected from suspected dogfighting venues.
The FBI administers both the NDIS (National DNA Index System) and CODIS, but the information that is contained in the national database comes from the federal government and the states. There have been numerous challenges against the collection of DNA samples stating that it composes an illegal search and seizure in violation of the Fourth Amendment; however, courts have upheld the laws allowing the collection of DNA to continue. (National DNA Database) CODIS is mostly used for the identification and capture of violent criminals all over the country, but in the beginning, it was not like this.
Today agencies submit to blood or cheek swab samples from individuals who are convicted and are required to do so, who are arrested for certain qualifying federal crimes. It does include not only the criminal offenses but also the non-U.S. citizens who are detained under the authority of the U.S. (FBI) The FBI has their own Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) which is the DNA database and the software used to run said databases. The FBI uses CODIS like any other database for qualifying federal cases in which the Federal DNA Database Unit (FDDU) produces a DNA profile and uploads it to the National DNA Index System (NDIS), which is part of CODIS. (CODIS and NDIS, 2016)
The U.S. National DNA Database System was initially constructed to track sex offenders, but with time it has since expanded to include people convicted of a federal offense. The U.S. National DNA Database System collects DNA from criminals throughout the country in order to store, track, and locate said criminals by matching their DNA to the data stored in their database. (National DNA Database) DNA can be found in just about anywhere and anything, however in most states, criminal subjects can have their DNA recorded into the database for any minor offense. The program of the U.S. National DNA Database System began as a trial after the DNA Identification Act of 1994 funded federal DNA labs and authorized the FBI to begin constructing a database full of genetic information. (National DNA Database)
The establishment of national DNA databases has shown how it can be a valuable instrument in the fight against crime, but some skeptics believe that it has evolved into a list of information of the general public. The UK National DNA Database is the most extensive database at a national level, and it consists of relevant DNA profiles and samples from a select number of individuals within the UK. In 2012, the UK Protection of Freedoms Bill was passed, the bill aimed to balance the State’s duty to protect the public and an individual’s right to privacy, the result was 1.8 million DNA profiles from innocent adults and children were deleted from the database. (Ethics with National Databases, 2015)
DNA Databases in the Justice System are a huge help in identifying a criminal; the United Kingdom was one of the first European countries to construct a DNA Database. The United Kingdom now can get a match from a crime scene in the spot with a 63% success rate. (Scientific T.F.) DNA databases save not only time but also human resources and resources; with just lifting some DNA from a crime scene, there is a possibility that the police can have a name that can be the suspect. Not only do these databases have the ability to give law enforcement a person to convict but they also can exonerate a person of being wrongly accused.
There are laboratories with the capacity to determine the DNA from a bloodstain or a semen swab left by the criminal, but because of the lack of a suspect, there is no useful information that can be used in court. (Corte-Real, 2004) Without a suspect profile, the need to determine the DNA in these sophisticated laboratories would be a waste of time. With a DNA database, however, there is a possibility of identifying the suspect if the said suspect had been previously included in the database.
Some people argue that the genetic information gathered by these databases is more private and intimate than the information that law enforcement gather on a routine basis. The storage of genetic information allegedly involves a more significant violation of privacy than the other forms of information. (Cole, 2007) However, there is a fine line for companies that market themselves as reliable with consumer privacy like FamilyTreeDNA, who have been sharing DNA data with the FBI since 2018. The senior counsel of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Alan Butler, has described the situation as “’ bait and switch’ behavior that the laws enacted for consumer protection are meant to prohibit.” (Fuller, 2018)
The sharing of this private information is frowned upon due to the promise of the company that the consumer’s information will be strictly confidential. Although this does help law enforcement solve ongoing criminal cases, for example, the Golden State Killer was captured last year after thirty-two years of eluding the police. Law enforcement was able to catch the Golden State killer and many other suspects of cold cases by uploading a DNA profile from the crime scene to a public ancestry website. (Kaiser, Mora, and Frederick, 2019) With their ability to search through different DNA profiles on this public website, they were able to identify distant relatives and narrow down their searches.
The U.S. Department of Justice has recently implemented new rules on when law enforcement can use genetic genealogy to track down suspects of serious crimes. These new policies regarding the use of public DNA databases for the search of suspects have been balanced for individual privacy. One of the temporary policies that take effect on the 1st of November states that “forensic genetic geology” should only be used for violent crimes and the identification of human remains. (Kaiser, Mora, and Frederick, 2019) This policy makes police stick to conventional crime-solving methods before searching in any public DNA database. When searching through the databases police cannot use the suspect’s DNA profile to look for any indication that the suspect has any disease risks or psychological traits. (Kaiser, Mora, and Frederick, 2019)
Websites who are prepared to share their database with law enforcement are required to inform all users that law enforcement may search their data. Having websites inform their users that their genetic information may be searched by law enforcement is a great start. Although law enforcement did start with good intentions for searching public DNA databases for cold case suspects, they were treading on thin ice. The search of public databases for a criminal does seem a bit excessive, that is why the policy has law enforcement search only for suspects of violent crimes. This resemble the Saint Leo core value of Integrity, which all staff and clients alike should pledge to be honest, just and consistent in word and deed.
Assigning limits as to why, when, and how law enforcement can search through public DNA databases is a great way to keep the public happy with their privacy. Recently the use of genetic DNA searches hit a roadblock when GEDmatch, a free database used in the majority of the cases cracked recently, changed their policy to allow the search of customers who had agreed to be included. According to a recent news report, the recent policy change has reduced from 1.4 million to 140,000 profiles that can be searched by police, making it quite useless. (Kaiser, Mora, and Frederick, 2019)
There is always the human factor that must be taken into account when dealing with any significant dispute. All humans are susceptible to error; it’s in our nature, there may be some profiles in which the DNA that was collected could be contaminated. DNA databases overlook this because they are being programmed to contain this information that was collected by law enforcement. Everyone has their bad days, but that is no excuse for submitting DNA evidence that you thought was good enough because DNA evidence is not 100% accurate. That is why as part of the forensic team, you have to gather all DNA evidence at the scene as best as possible. Just like the Saint Leo core value of excellence the success of law enforcement depends upon a conscientious commitment to their mission, vision, and goals.
The fact that DNA databases can store genetic information for an infinite amount of time is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you can look up DNA evidence from cold cases decades apart, but on the other hand, these databases can be hacked into. These “hackers” once they have bypassed all security within the databases, they can collect any DNA information and use it for their own agenda. I have no clear solution for this type of problem because I am not a Cyber Security major, but from my limited knowledge of computers, the best solution is having multiple firewalls protecting said databases.
Probably the most crucial pro of DNA databases is that all individuals have control of their DNA. Some people willingly submit their DNA into databases for the ability to trace their roots and find out their heritage. If an individual does not want their DNA stored in a database, they have the right to do so, unless a search warrant is issued for the individual’s DNA to which they would be given voluntarily. If law enforcement does not respect an individual’s wishes of not having their DNA recorded or implement the search warrant in a hostile and forceful way, they will violate said individual’s Fourth Amendment rights.
DNA databases can be used as an instrument in the field of genetic studies; we can use these databases to further our knowledge of the human DNA. Having a better understanding of how our DNA reacts to certain factors and how they work can further accelerate the possibilities in the field of medicine. Not only can we upgrade our medical instruments, but also create cures, vaccines, or anything that may be plaguing people born with defects. Knowing that there is a possibility that we can expand further on our knowledge in medicine is the primary factor that makes me believe that DNA databases are a great idea to expand and share with other countries with their respective databases.
Besides the fact that we can further expand our knowledge in medicine, DNA databases can make the world a safer place by making it easier for law enforcement to apprehend criminals. I am not just thinking about myself but of the people I love and care about, and one day in the future about the kids that I will have. My family raised me with what is, for me, the most important principle, and that is that family is everything. Friends come and go, but family is there no matter what; on the rarest occasions, friends may become family, and that is great because that means that they believe in the same thing that I do, that family is everything.
DNA databases should be expanded upon for numerous reasons, but for now, these databases should be regulated to please the public who are skeptical about DNA databases. I say please because society cannot create individual opinions on their own. I should know because I am part of that society, but after reading all of this information and creating a research paper about DNA databases, I can safely say that I have a transparent and honest opinion about DNA databases. When I say regulate DNA databases is the fact that public databases in which an individual can submit their DNA willingly for any reason should inform whether or not their DNA may be used by law enforcement in order to search for a violent criminal.
The majority of society does not like the government, or law enforcement, I know this is an unorthodox statement to claim for a college undergraduate majoring in criminal justice. But from what I have seen, experienced, and heard is precisely that, there many reasons for the dislike someone can tell you it’s because of racism, class inequality, lack of education, etc., but the thing is that it doesn’t matter because we depend on them to keep society under control and in a fair state.
- CODIS and NDIS Fact Sheet. (2016, June 8). Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/services/laboratory/biometric-analysis/codis/codis-and-ndis-fact-sheet.
- Cole, Simon A. (2007). Is the “Junk” DNA designation Bunk? Retrieved from http://scholarlycommons.law.northwestern.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1082&context=nulr_online
- Corte-Real, F. (2004, November 17). Forensic DNA databases. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0379073804005250.
- Dog-Fighting DNA Database Breaks New Ground In Crackdown on Animal Cruelty. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.aspca.org/about-us/press-releases/dog-fighting-dna-database-breaks-new-ground-crackdown-animal-cruelty.
- Federal DNA Database. (2016, May 7). Retrieved from https://www.fbi.gov/services/laboratory/biometric-analysis/federal-dna-database
- Fuller, T. (2018, April 26). How a Genealogy Site Led to the Front Door of the Golden State Killer Suspect. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/04/26/us/golden-state-killer.html.
- Haag, M. (2019, February 4). FamilyTreeDNA Admits to Sharing Genetic Data With F.B.I. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2019/02/04/business/family-tree-dna-fbi.html
- Is it ethical to have a national DNA database? (2015, January 19). Retrieved from https://www.yourgenome.org/debates/is-it-ethical-to-have-a-national-dna-database.
- KaiserSep, J., MoraOct, K., FrederickOct, E., FrederickOct, E., FrederickOct, E., & FrederickSep, E. (2019, September 25). New federal rules limit police searches of family tree DNA databases. Retrieved from https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/09/new-federal-rules-limit-police-searches-family-tree-dna-databases
- Roewer1, L. (2013, November 18). DNA fingerprinting in forensics: past, present, future. Retrieved from https://investigativegenetics.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/2041-2223-4-22?optIn=false.
- Scientific, T. F. (2016, June 29). Retrieved November 4, 2019, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZfQvBTvbiPw.
- U.S. National DNA Database System. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://criminal.findlaw.com/criminal-procedure/the-national-dna-database-system.html.