Is it time for a universal genetic forensic database?

23 November 2018  Vol 362, Issue 6417

Policy Forum
Is it time for a universal genetic forensic database?
By J. W. Hazel, E. W. Clayton, B. A. Malin, C. Slobogin
Science23 Nov 2018 : 898-900 Restricted Access
Bias and privacy concerns cloud police use of genetics
DNA is an increasingly useful crime-solving tool. But still quite unclear is the extent to which law enforcement should be able to obtain genetic data housed in public and private databases. How one answers that question might vary substantially, depending on the source of the data. Several countries—the United Kingdom, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia among them—have even toyed with creating a “universal” DNA database, populated with data from every individual in society, obviating the need for any other DNA source (1). Although this move would be controversial, it may not be as dramatic as one might think. In the United States, for example, the combination of state and federal databases (containing genetic profiles of more than 16.5 million arrestees and convicts) and public and private databases (containing genetic data of tens of millions of patients, consumers, and research participants) already provides the government with potential access to genetic information that can be linked to a large segment of the country, either directly or through a relative (2, 3). We discuss here how, if correctly implemented, a universal database would likely be more productive and less discriminatory than our current system, without compromising as much privacy.