DNA Databanks and Genomics Research: Forensic and Military (Ab)Uses


Efforts to identify criminal suspects, victims of crime, those killed in military conflicts and mass fatality casualties are increasingly supported by the availability of databanks holding deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) profiles obtained from known subjects. The development of these databanks has been made possible by advances in forensic genetic technologies, legislative changes and substantial (usually state) investment. Although there is widespread public support for the criminal justice uses of these innovations in genetic and information technologies, some critics argue that the growth of forensic DNA databanks and their expanding use by police and judicial authorities can also threaten individual and collective human rights. Relevant questions are: what should be the criteria for the inclusion and retention of profiles in forensic DNA databanks; what are the legitimate uses of samples and profiles; and what governance arrangements are appropriate to secure public trust in forensic DNA databank establishment and growth?

Key Concepts

  • Several substantial research studies have shown that forensic DNA profiling and databanking can play a significant and cost‐effective role in criminal justice outcomes for a wide variety of crime types.

  • There is a global trend for criminal jurisdictions to adopt forensic DNA profiling and databanking in support of criminal investigations and prosecutions.

  • DNA profiling and matching is an important resource for the identification of civilian and military casualties in conflict and natural disaster situations.

  • Public trust in the police and judicial forensic DNA databanks depends on the inclusiveness, transparency and accountability of databank governance arrangements.

  • Legislation governing criminal and military DNA databanks normally specifies that information cannot be shared between these and medical databanks.

  • There is increasing interest in the investigative usefulness of automated exchange of forensic DNA profiles between national jurisdictions; new transnational arrangements are emerging – at least within the European Union – to reflect this interest.

Keywords: DNA databank; short tandem repeats; forensics; DNA profiling; forensic genetics


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Williams, Robin(Nov 2014) DNA Databanks and Genomics Research: Forensic and Military (Ab)Uses. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. http://www.els.net [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005859.pub2]