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Should DNA databases include profiles of innocent people?

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In an editorial in the LA Times, Osagie K. Obasogie warned against the dangers of collecting and retaining DNA from arrestees who are not convicted of a crime. Obasogie pointed out that a number of states, including California and Ohio, have recently introduced laws that require officers to collect DNA for storage from anyone arrested on a felony charge, and that the retention of this information after the suspects have been set free is a dangerous violation of individual privacy rights.

At the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, we are generally in favor of collecting as much DNA evidence in every case as possible, since such evidence can often be the key in proving innocence or guilt. Still, we must acknowledge the dangers of policies that include the retention of DNA evidence of innocence men and woman since, as Obasogie points out, there are sometimes inexplicable matches within large databases. In other words, there are DNA profiles within databases that have been collected from different individuals but, upon analysis, would appear to be from the same person. While these false matches are infrequent, Obasogie fears that the inclusion of factually innocent profiles within the databases could lead to an innocent person being improperly matched in a criminal investigation.

This is an interesting dilemma that Obasogie has raised; on the one hand, any expansion of DNA databases should help investigators and prosecutors ensure that they are getting the right suspect, and help defendants prove their innocence. On the other hand, since DNA testing is such a complex science that has not yet been fully refined, the chance of mistakes should not be ignored. What do you think? Is it okay to collect and retain DNA from felony arrests even if there is no conviction?

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