Spread of DNA databases sparks ethical concerns

LONDON (AP) — Countries around the world are collecting genetic material from millions of citizens in the name of fighting crime and terrorism. But critics say they’re heading into uncharted ethical terrain.

In the United States, the Supreme Court recently backed the collection of DNA swabs from suspects on arrest. Until recently in Britain, police could take the DNA of anyone 10 or older arrested for even the most minor offense — and keep it forever, even if the suspect was later acquitted or released without charge.

The expanding trove of DNA in official hands has alarmed privacy campaigners, and some scientists.

MIT biomedical researcher Yaniv Erlich published a paper earlier this year describing how he was able to identify individuals, and their families, from anonymous DNA data in a research project. All it took was a computer algorithm, a genetic genealogy website and searches of publicly available Internet records.

Erlich says although his work gave him a ‘wow’ feeling, it also shows “there are privacy limitations.”

In 2009, the international police agency Interpol listed 54 nations with national police DNA databases. Other countries have joined the club since then.

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