Emerging DNA technology will impinge on privacy: civil liberties australia

by jeeg 18. November 2013 23:57

CIVIL Liberties Australia is concerned emerging DNA technology that allows police to determine eye and hair colour of potential suspects will impinge on privacy and help create a national DNA database.

But forensic officer for Victoria Police Runa Daniel said information gained from the technology that uses phenotypic markers in DNA to help identify suspects would not be kept.

The Victoria Police Forensic Services Department and the Australian Federal Police are collaborating on the University of Canberra PhD project.

''Phenotypic markers are not useful for identification purposes and legislation does not allow for information gained from phenotypic markers to be stored on DNA databases,'' Dr Daniel said.

''Phenotypic markers are only intended for use in police investigations like any other form of intelligence such as eye witness statements. The use of forensic DNA intelligence tools and the storage of samples and information will be dictated by legislation.''

But director of Civil Liberties Australia Tim Vines said Australian legislation about DNA use and storage always lagged behind research breakthroughs.

''What about incidental findings? Something like a genetic mutation? Do the police have an obligation to tell the suspect?''

He said DNA taken from a suspect that showed another family member was the more likely culprit was also problematic.

''There are issues around potential stereotypes of certain groups and genetic profiling,'' Mr Vines said.

PhD student Bhavik Mehta, who is leading the research, said current tools can predict eye and hair colour with greater than 90 per cent accuracy in European populations. His research technique requires minute amounts of DNA in the range of a few trillionths of a gram to one billionth of a gram.

''So, yes, trace DNA from a single hair, minute drop of blood and saliva or a handprint would potentially be sufficient to provide a limited description of someone's appearance.''

Mr Mehta said collating the initial database on biogeographical ancestry would take a few years, but once complete a sample could be analysed in hours.

''We are expecting to complete the preliminary assessment of the technology for prediction of biogeographical ancestry, eye and hair colour at the research level in a couple of years. However, the face prediction is dependent on the discovery of additional markers. Once the relevant markers have been identified and the analysis algorithms defined, the sample can be analysed in a matter of hours.''

 Ewa Kretowicz, Canberra Times



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