DNA Speculation

Chris Pounder, privacy law expert at Pinsent Masons, is pointing out the inevitable result of allowing speculative searching on the National DNA Database in order to find near matches to those whose profile is already held:

“Pounder anticipates that statistical techniques will develop and become more sophisticated. In future, a DNA profile of someone arrested could be statistically linked to more and more relatives like parents, siblings, uncles, aunts, cousins, many of whom will not have been arrested,” he said.

“In that way, the DNA database, even though it contains data relating to criminals, will span most of the UK population,” Pounder said. “If you are ever related to someone with a criminal record, your DNA will have the potential to be linked to that individual’s police records.”

The Forensic Science Service has been quick to point out the successful outcomes of speculative searching, but no mention is made of the pitfalls.

An estimated 1 in 20 of us may not have the father we think we have. Some people have to change their family’s identity because of witness protection, or to hide from a violent and dangerous ex-partner. Some children are adopted in circumstances where it is essential that they are never found by birth parents. There is also the issue of genetic markers for disease and the value of such information to insurance companies, for example.

‘Pandora’s Box’ has repeatedly been used to describe the potential dangers of speculative searching, and it seems entirely accurate. The Forensic Science Service has already been turned into a GovCo, and this is seen as a transitional step towards its becoming a fully privatised company. What are the chances of such explosive data remaining secret when control is no longer in the hands of government, and commercial opportunities beckon?

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