Personal Privacy Considerations

A number of personal privacy risks of iDNAfication have been described and anticipated in the design of some iDNAfication programs. Thus, for example, many have pointed out that if the DNA sequences used as the components of an iDNAfication profile are taken from the regions of the human genome that code for proteins, important biological information about their sources could be revealed, including information about their paternity, current health status, and potential health risks (U.S. Congress Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), National Academy of Sciences). Any risk of disclosing sensitive personal information of these sorts would clearly increase the intrusiveness of iDNAfication beyond that of traditional fingerprinting and photography. In addition, it could expose the person being described to the possibility of discrimination on the basis of a disclosed genotype (Bereano; DeGorgey; Scheck; Sankar) Fortunately, this is a privacy risk that can be almost entirely eliminated by two simple precautions: One need only avoid analyzing biologically informative DNA, and destroy the DNA samples upon analysis.

The first precaution can be accomplished by restricting the sections of DNA that are amplified, analyzed and utilized in the iDNAfication profile to the non-coding regions of DNA between our functional genes. By definition, markers selected from these regions will not disclose any biologically significant information. Rather, like fingerprints, they could merely provide a unique pattern to match in seeking to identify an unknown person. Even photographs are useful mainly as patterns to match, rather than for what they can independently tell us about the person pictured in them. Serendipitously, individual variation is also vastly more pronounced in this so called junk DNA (since mutations can accumulate in these sections without having any adverse effect on genomic function), making it more attractive for iDNAfication purposes on scientific grounds as well.

Thus, the FBI, in establishing standardized forensic iDNAfication markers for use by state laboratories contributing DNA profiles to the latter's National DNA Index System (NDIS), has focused on a set of thirteen loci from non-coding regions that contain series of repeated nucleo-tide sequences whose length is highly variable between individuals (Hoyle). The exclusive use of these markers in any iDNAfication program would forestall most genetic privacy concerns linked to the biological information content of the DNA profile itself.

The second important step to insuring the genetic privacy of iDNAfication is to destroy the physical samples of DNA once DNA profiles have been generated from them. As long as the DNA samples themselves are retained, the risk remains that they could be retested for their biological informational content. Thus, in its report on forensic DNA analysis, the National Academy of Sciences in 1990 recommended that even samples taken from convicted offenders be destroyed promptly upon analysis, and the FBI has designed its national iDNAfication collection as a databank, not a DNA bank, including only the electronic profiles of non-coding DNA markers (Murch and Budowle).

This second precaution has not been adopted by forensic laboratories at the state level, or by the military at the federal level. Most of these laboratories plan to bank their actual DNA samples indefinitely, on the grounds that the samples may need to be retested as new markers or testing technologies become standard (McEwen). The Department of Defense is storing dried blood samples from its recruits, for genotyping only in the event that the recruits later turn up missing in combat. This effectively undercuts the privacy protections afforded by using non-coding markers in the iDNAfication profile itself, and immediately elevates the privacy risk of any iDNAfication program well beyond that of ordinary fingerprinting. Even if, contra the National

Academy of Sciences, this increased risk were tolerable for convicted offenders, it should not be for military recruits, government employees, or arrestees, since the potential intrusion goes well beyond what is required for identification.

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