I’ll just try to give a short introduction about why I got to this subject, for our more international users.
Last Sunday, November 18th 2012, one of the biggest murder cases of the Netherlands was finally solved after 13 years of detectives working on it. It was about a girl, 16 years old, that got raped and murdered in a big field after she went out to a bar. Several people were accused of murdering her, but they never could prove it and the case went cold for a long time. In some sort of last attempt, a large scale DNA search was initiated, asking 7300 men, all living within a 5KM radius of the scene of the crime) to deliver some of their DNA to the justice department.
One of the biggest motivation of the justice department to do this, was to find at least a relative of the person who did this and get a clue where they needed to start looking. Well, I think to everyone’s surprise, the guy who actually did it, volunteered to give a sample of his DNA and a few weeks later when the results were in, they apprehended him. YAY for DNA!
Let me start with saying that I am pro catching killers, rapists and every other criminal there is.
This week the media and a lot of people went completely overboard and started yelling that just everyone needed to submit some DNA to this database they got so whenever someone was raped or murdered and they found some DNA evidence, they could easily match it to the person responsible.
Great idea everyone, except if you have ever worked in IT, you would probably trust your lives to this database, what could ever go wrong, right?
Well, let me give you some examples, which might seem over the top or ‘could never happen’, starting from the moment they harvest DNA and ending in someone getting arrested.
Mistakes while collecting large amounts
When organizing a country-wide DNA collection, the chances of making a mistake are a lot higher than when you just get it from a single or a couple of persons. Vials get mislabeled, vials go missing, etc.
Software engineers make mistakes
No matter how you twist or turn it, the ‘DNA database’ is just a piece of software, written by software engineers like me. It is tested, tested and tested and then launched to contain all our precious DNA samples. After the launch there are a couple of bug fixes (faults in the software are corrected), because software engineering is a rather complex process and after those bug fixes there are going to be some more bug fixes. What if one of those bugs causes your DNA to be stored with the name a completely random serial rapist? Yup, that could just happen.
Databases get hacked
Databases with sensitive information are always a great target for a hacker. So when someone finds a way ‘in’ the DNA database, what could the results be? Your DNA profile could be dumped on the internet, but why stop there, why not connect your DNA to a completely random person and be untraceable?
Information is abused, sooner or later
What if, from your DNA we could see if you are more prone to get a certain type of cancer. That would be awesome right? Adjust your lifestyle, get regular check-ups to get to it early and fight it while you still can. That would maybe even lead to some discovery of how it actually starts within a human body. Awesome! …
Until of course your health insurance company get access to that nice database we got there. Yup, they will probably still insure you right? I’ll just let you answer that for yourself. *
One of the things I am most worried about, is that when someone is murdered and they find some DNA, that because of one of the screw ups mentioned above, I got this SWAT team at my door, to arrest me for some crime I did not commit.
While I am being arrested the media goes wild! They finally found that murderer that killed those 15 women, neighbors being interviewed about who I am and they always suspected I’d be some creepy guy (always behind his computer, etc).
Until they do a secondary DNA test, which actually says that the DNA in the database is not my DNA?
Yup, what a great idea that is. And people now saying “that would never happen”, try working in IT for a couple of years. Anything can happen!
[*] The answer is no.