The inventor of DNA fingerprinting, Professor Sir Alec Jeffreys, of the
University of Leicester, has voiced his concerns over the ethics of a
Professor Jeffreys –known as the father of DNA fingerprinting-spoke
out over the ‘significant ethical and social issues’ as the government
launched an inquiry into the way the national DNA database is used.The
UK database, with the DNA of over 4million people, was launched in 1995
and allows all DNA collected by forensics — for whatever purposes —
to be stored indefinitely.
Professor Jeffreys, who is Royal Society Wolfson Research Professor
in the Department of Genetics, invented DNA fingerprinting at the
University of Leicester in 1984. The world renowned technique has
revolutionised forensic science and has been used to resolve paternity
Professor Jeffreys said the database was a very powerful tool in the
fight against crime but added he was concerned that the database was
being populated by people who had not been convicted of any crime.
This was not the initial purpose of the database which was
originally meant to hold the DNA of convicted criminals.Professor
Jeffreys expressed concerns about the retention of innocent individuals
on the National DNA Database and the use of kinship analysis in
He said: "The national DNA database is a very powerful tool in the
fight against crime, but recent developments such as the retention of
innocent people’s DNA raises significant ethical and social issues.
"The real concern I have in the UK is what I see as a sort of
‘mission creep’. When the DNA database was initially established, it
was to database DNA from criminals so if they re-offended, they could
be picked up.
"Now hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent people are
populating that database – people who have come to the police’s
attention, for example, by being arrested or charged with a crime and
"This was not the initial purpose of the database which was
originally meant to hold the DNA of convicted criminals.I have real
concerns about the retention of innocent individuals on the National
DNA Database. There are also issues concerning familial searching,
where the database is used to identify possible relatives of an unknown
suspect in a criminal investigation."
During a law lecture at the University of Leicester the Right
Honourable Lord Justice Sedley, a senior appeal court judge, also
highlighted concerns over the DNA database.
Lord Justice Sedley, who has been a prominent member of the Court of
Appeal since 1999, gave a lecture entitled Rarely Pure and Never
Simple: The Law and the Truth. In it, he called for a national DNA
database to be set up which recorded every individual in the country as
well as those leaving or entering.
He argued that under the present system the difficulties in securing
reliable evidence have led to miscarriages of justice. Further, the
only samples that are currently held are from persons who have been
arrested, whether or not a charge or conviction follows. This, he added
“has the unfortunate effect of putting the innocent on a par with
Lord Justice Sedley said the use of the DNA data would have to be
restricted, as it is now, to the purposes of preventing, detecting,
investigating and prosecuting crime.
He added that there was also a need for a separate national DNA
register, separate from policing, and retained for purposes like
identifying disaster victims or tracing lost children.
Source: University of Leicester. January 2008.