Wednesday, 19 September 2007

'Retaining DNA records of innocent people "unethical"...'

'The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has condemned the retention of "innocent" DNA on the National Database as unjustifed and unethical with "overtones of a police state".
The council - a group of clinicians, lawyers, philosophers, scientists, and theologians - was established in 1991 to examine ethical issues raised by new developments in science.'

Today, the police of England and Wales have wider sampling powers than the police force of any other country, and the UK has (proportionally, per head of population) the largest forensic database in the world.

When the police first began using DNA, consent was required before samples could be taken. A succession of Acts of Parliament and legislative amendments has increased police powers of sampling; the police can now take DNA samples from all persons arrested, without their consent, for recordable offences (an "arbitrary" classification), and retain the samples indefinitely regardless of whether the person arrested is subsequently convicted or even charged.

The finding of a match between a person and a crime scene does not indicate that the person was at the crime scene or that they committed the crime in question, but it might lead to them being subjected to a police investigation.

The report points out that "simply being the subject of a criminal investigation by the police can cause harm, distress, and stigma", and Sir Bob Hepple QC, chairman of the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, cited a newspaper comment on the McCann case that the couple would find it "difficult to prove their innocence" as a result of widely reported forensic links.

Concern was also expressed about new uses to which the database is now being put and the acute lack of ethical oversight. The original aim of the DNA database was to match crime scene samples to suspect samples. It is now being used for "increasingly speculative searches", including "ethnic inferences" and "genetic predisposition to crime".

Council members have been unable to discover the nature of all the research projects permitted by the DNA Database Custodian, and criticise the lack of transparency over the granting of third party requests for access to the database.

The British Medical Association recently outlined its concerns about the "militarisation of biology" in its report 'The Use of Drugs As Weapons: The Concerns and Responsibilities of Healthcare Professionals.'

The report refers to the potential use of genetic material to satisfy the search for specificity by "less than lethal" weapon enthusiasts, and cites a paper by two Chinese authors in the 2005 Military Review in which they state: "If we acquire a target's genome and proteome information, including those of ethnic groups or individuals, we could design a vulnerating agent that attacks only key enemies without doing any harm to ordinary people".

Author: Amber Marks.

See: http://www.theregister.co.uk/2007/09/19/dna_database_report1/page2.html

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