Every human being shares almost the exact same genetic code. In fact, according to the Human Genone Project, the genetic differences between any two people are all contained in one-tenth of one per cent of their genetic make-up. DNA fingerprinting refers to a set of laboratory techniques used to analyse and compare these small differences. Examples of the tests used include polymerase chain reaction (PRC) analysis, Y-chromosome analysis and mitochondrial DNA analysis. DNA fingerprinting uses include identifying remains, crime scene evidence analysis and tracking human migration patterns. DNA fingerprinting also poses potential dangers.
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The science used in DNA fingerprinting may be exact, but the results are not. DNA fingerprinting only provides a degree of probability that, for example, the DNA of a suspect matches the DNA found at a crime scene. The more extensive the testing performed, reports the Human Genome Project, the higher the probability that the DNA matches.
DNA samples taken from convicted felons, arrested suspects and crime scenes are accessible to law enforcement through a system called CODIS (Combined DNA Index System). This tool allows law enforcement to compare new genetic evidence against existing genetic samples and evidence. The system has not received universal praise. The laws governing which people must provide DNA samples and which samples are submitted to CODIS vary from state to state. Genetic material from those that do not get convicted or who have convictions overturned can remain in the system, essentially placing innocent people into the same suspect pool as convicted felons and sex offenders.
In a March 5, 2007 article on BusinessWeek.com, David H. Holtzman reports that DNA analysis has come far enough to confirm ethnic ancestry. This presents a problem in that such confirmation could, theoretically, be used as a method for ethnic cleansing. It also presents the problem of ethnic bias. The Human Genome Project reports that the U.K. equivalent of the CODIS system contains a higher number of DNA samples from minorities because they face arrest, though not necessarily conviction, at a statistically higher rate. Arrested suspects in the U.K. can be compelled to give DNA. Over-representation in a criminal database can create the potential for a underlying bias in a criminal justice system as a whole.
Another danger on the civil rights front comes from the health information available from DNA. The March 5, 2007 BusinessWeek.com article also reports that DNA can potentially provide information regarding the presence of genetic diseases, such as Tay-Sachs. According to the Human Genome project, other information potentially available through genetic samples includes whether or not a person is the parent of a child, and sexual orientation. The availability of this information to law enforcement and other government representatives, without a person's consent, represents a serious potential threat to the right to privacy.
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