DNA fingerprinting

Deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) is the one-dimensional ultimate unique code for one’s individuality — except for the fact that identical twins have identical DNA patterns. It is, however, currently used mostly in the context of forensic applications for person recognition.

With the introduction of DNA analysis three decades ago, criminal investigations and prosecutions gained a powerful tool to link suspects to crimes through biological evidence. This field has also exposed scores of wrongful convictions, and raised serious questions about the forensic science used in building cases. And it's not just DNA. The Justice Department and FBI have formally acknowledged that nearly every examiner in an elite FBI forensic unit gave flawed testimony in almost all trials in which they offered evidence against criminal defendants over more than a two-decade period before 2000.

Aside the possibility of errors, three issues limit the utility of this biometrics for other applications:

  • contamination and sensitivity: it is easy to steal a piece of DNA from an unsuspecting subject that can be subsequently abused for an ulterior purpose;
  • automatic real-time recognition issues: the present technology for DNA matching requires cumbersome chemical methods (wet processes) involving an expert’ s skills and is not geared for on-line non-invasive recognition; and
  • privacy issues: information about susceptibilities of a person to certain diseases could be gained from the DNA pattern and there is general concern that the unintended abuse of genetic code information may result in discrimination, for example in hiring practices.

Due to the overwhelming success of DNA databases, a political process was initiated by a number of European countries to establish a legal basis for exchanging DNA database profiles between countries in criminal investigations. This led to the Prüm Convention, which was signed in 2005 with the purpose of “stepping up cross-border cooperation, particularly in combating terrorism, cross-border crime and illegal migration”.