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The future of law enforcement: Navigating the pros and cons of mandatory DNA databases

February 26, 2024  By Isabelle Sauvé

Photo: Getty Images

The ever-evolving law enforcement eco-system has seen a short-lived but potentially revolutionary seismic and controversial law showing promise in redefining how investigations are approached and conducted. Mandatory DNA collection has surfaced as a prospective game-changing tool transcending traditional investigative methods. The question remains: is mandatory DNA testing a technological marvel or an outright violation of human rights?

In 2015, in a bold and controversial move, Kuwait was the first to pass an austere law making it compulsory nationwide for every individual to provide a DNA sample to the authorities for its analysis, retention and use. It became mandatory not only for all citizens but also for all foreign residents of Kuwait. A DNA database was created to hold the results. The new law stipulated anyone failing to submit their DNA could face penalties of up to one year in prison and a fine of up to USD $33,000. Those fraudulently providing a tampered DNA sample could face even stiffer sentences.

The ruling came in the shadows of an Islamic State-led suicide bombing in Kuwait City months prior which killed 26 individuals and wounded an estimated 227 more. The government claimed to have created the DNA database to identify and arrest suspects more expediently in the aftermath of any future incidents.

To uncover someone’s unique DNA sequence, scientists extract genetic material from a sample of one’s cells. The unique combination of bases within the cells is subsequently mapped. It can be likened to determining one’s protracted barcode. This unique “barcode” can later be attributed to that one person. The retention of this information can subsequently be utilized in a host of distinctive ways.

Mandatory DNA testing in Kuwait has since been overturned but the concept remains a stimulating philosophical topic of debate. While the former law extended a host of novel investigative avenues it also attracted controversy and stout opposition from human rights and ethics advocates. Many other countries around the world maintain DNA records, however, exclusively for persons convicted of a crime or certain types of crimes. Human rights professionals expressed concerns that the DNA information could be wrongfully used by the government to monitor its citizens, and if not highly regulated and monitored, could be used against individuals and infringe upon privacy rights on other matters related to health, longevity, ancestry, etc.

DNA technology is a powerful tool with abundant potential for solving crime, improving public safety, identifying suspects or victims and ensuring justice.

Perhaps the most significant benefit of DNA databases lies in their ability to aid in crime-solving and investigations. By running DNA samples seized from crime scenes against stored DNA profiles in DNA holdings, law enforcement can swiftly and confidently identify plausible suspects and victims. The capability to expedite investigations is significant by enabling authorities to narrow down their points of concentration and allocate resources most efficiently.

Mandatory DNA databases would bolster the comparison of evidence against existing DNA “barcodes” in the system, leading to faster resolutions and a greater number of case closures. Moreover, links between seemingly unrelated cases could be contrived. By comparing sizeable amounts of data, patterns can emerge that connect pieces of criminal puzzles that otherwise may have gone undetected and unsolved. It also has extraordinary potential to assist with cases which are serial in nature.

DNA databases are powerful tools in the identification of missing individuals and unidentified bodies. Families of missing persons often face years of yearning and an emotional rollercoaster not knowing the fate of their loved ones. The use of an obligatory DNA database could be highly successful in offering answers to grieving families and providing them with some closure on cases that would likely have remained unsolved for an indeterminant amount of time. DNA databases have the potential to breathe new life into cold criminal cases.

In the event of mass disasters or large-scale incidents, DNA databases could provide a rapid and reliable means of identifying victims or perpetrators.

Another conceivable benefit is the ability to exonerate the innocent. Wrongful convictions have long been a significant concern within the criminal justice system. DNA evidence could be a compelling instrument for re-visiting files and overturning convictions. Not only does this begin to address past injustices; but it could also improve public trust in the criminal justice system.

The existence of an all-encompassing and comprehensive DNA databank could serve as a deterrent to potential criminals. Being cognisant that one’s DNA may easily be tied to a crime could dissuade those with bad intentions from committing criminal activity. This detractive influence could boost public safety by discouraging criminality.

DNA databases have the potential to operate as a transformative force. From a public safety standpoint, it could be disputed that the advantages of mandatory DNA laws for all citizens and residents could outweigh the perceived violations of human rights. It is conceivable that DNA technology be expanded to benefit many facets of law enforcement.

Isabelle Sauvé has an MA in psychology and is a PhD candidate. She is also an ultramarathon/endurance athlete and the Racing the Planet/4 Deserts 2018 Series winner as well as a Guinness World record holder. She can be contacted at:

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