When you touch something with your fingers, then the oils on your skin will leave a print behind. If you have ever placed your thumb on a window, you’ve seen this process occur. Fingerprinting was developed in the early 20th century as a forensic process to identify individuals who may have been present at a crime scene.
As technologies have evolved, we have discovered that DNA is unique to individuals as well. Your skin, your saliva, and other parts of the body leave behind DNA traces, just like fingers leave behind fingerprints. The process of DNA fingerprinting proposes that people would be identified by matching DNA left behind to a current sample, or one stored within a DNA database.
The processes for DNA fingerprinting were first developed by Sir Alec Jeffreys in 1984. It analyzes DNA sequences to recognize patterns and comparison points that allows one set of DNA to be compared to another after a sample has been obtained.
DNA fingerprinting, or genetic fingerprinting, provides a number of specific advantages and disadvantages which must be considered. Here are the top key points to think about and discuss.
List of the Top Advantages of DNA Fingerprinting
1. DNA fingerprinting provides another layer of forensic evidence.
A pair of gloves might be able to stop fingerprints from being left behind at a crime scene. DNA evidence is much more difficult to prevent. People shed skin flakes and hair follicles all the time. A sneeze releases saliva and body fluids that contain DNA traces. Even coughing can cause DNA traces to be left behind.
2. It offers a greater level of certainty than standard fingerprinting.
No two people are believed to have the exact same fingerprints, just like no two people are believed to have the exact same DNA. To compare fingerprints for matching, specific points of comparison are logged, either by a visual examination or analytic software, to determine its accuracy. Although this process is fairly accurate, it is not as accurate as DNA fingerprinting. According to the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, fingerprint comparisons are accurate 98.6% of the time on a single finger. DNA fingerprinting is accurate 99.9% of the time.
3. DNA fingerprinting is unobtrusive.
Traditional fingerprinting requires dark ink to be placed on each finger. That finger is then rolled onto a card. Some fingerprinting may require palm prints as well. In comparison, DNA fingerprinting requires a simple cheek swab together the information that is required. Some people have the idea that for a DNA test to be accurate, a blood test must be performed. That is simply not true. DNA fingerprinting is just as easy as traditional fingerprinting when information must be obtained.
4. The evidence collected from DNA fingerprinting can be stored indefinitely.
DNA fingerprinting creates a specific genetic profile that can identify an individual. These profiles can be stored in databases for an indefinite period. Because this information is transformed into data points, it can be communicated quickly over the internet. Internal information can be communicated quickly over an ethernet. That means it becomes easier to identify and locate potential suspects who have their DNA fingerprints already stored, offering a greater potential for safety in our society.
5. DNA fingerprints have more than a criminal justice emphasis.
There are many ways that we can use DNA fingerprinting to benefit our personal lives. People are using their DNA profiles to determine their ancestry and heritage. This information can be used to determine biological parentage. We can even use it to identify people who may be at-risk of suffering from certain genetic diseases or genetically-related cancers. Although we often look at DNA fingerprinting as a way to identify criminal suspects, it has a variety of uses that we are continuing to develop.
6. It could become the foundation of genetic treatments.
Hereditary diseases have a genetic component to them. DNA fingerprinting can already be used to identify people with specific diseases. Infant screenings can catch PKU, for example, before it becomes a life-threatening problem. Infants with PKU can then be placed on a restrictive diet to ensure they live a happy and fulfilling life. With this information, we can also develop new genetic treatments that can restore DNA, or alter it, to help people be able to recover from what may be unrecoverable right now.
7. DNA fingerprinting does not require a specific sample size.
The genetic materials that are obtained from a DNA sample can be amplified with current technologies. That means a small sample provides the same comparison data as a large sample provides. The size of the sample does not affect the storage potential for DNA fingerprinting either. A simple swab can be stored almost indefinitely, making the information available for analysis when it is required.
List of the Top Disadvantages of DNA Fingerprinting
1. DNA fingerprinting is still an imperfect science.
Having a technology that is 99.9% accurate may seem like a reliable technology. When that percentage is applied to real-life cases, however, it indicates that there may be 1 error in every 1,000 cases that are analyzed. With a prisoner population of about 2 million people, that would indicate that up to 2,000 people may have experienced errors with their DNA fingerprinting process and could be innocent. We must continue to work toward options that further reduce the chances of putting innocent people through a criminal justice system.
2. There are privacy addresses we have not yet addressed.
Because the information from DNA fingerprinting can be stored indefinitely, there are specific privacy issues which we must address as a society. Should innocent people have their DNA profiles stored indefinitely? What about DNA information that is obtained through medical testing? Do doctors have an obligation to share DNA data from a medical file to law enforcement officials? Because we all leave DNA traces wherever we go, there is the possibility that it could be collected, stored, and even used against us in the future.
3. Data protection issues create additional storage and privacy issues.
We’ve already seen how effective data hacking can be under specific circumstances. Millions of people have had their data profiles compromises over the past decade. Imagine how much damage could be caused if an individual’s data profile contained DNA information instead of personal data and payment information? The ability to store DNA fingerprinting data must include an ability to properly protect it. Otherwise, we could experience new forms of identity theft that could be very difficult to combat.
4. It requires information obtained to be properly interpreted.
Let’s say that a major crime is committed at your local art museum. A famous painting, worth $300 million, has been stolen. You just happened to be at the museum the day before, looking at that exact painting. Maybe you put your hand on the wall next to it. Or maybe you had an allergy attack and sneezed a few times into a tissue, which you then threw away. Your DNA is going to be collected there. You are going to be a suspect.
Forensic experts must properly interpret DNA information that is obtained for it to be useful. If that does not occur, the possibilities of incorrect convictions could increase, instead of decrease.
5. People are overly influenced by DNA evidence.
Because of our exposure to forensic programming, such as CSI, there is a societal preference to place more regard on DNA fingerprinting over other forms of evidence. Despite the process not being 100% reliable, many treat the information this technology provides as being an irrefutable fact. Independent testing on DNA fingerprints has found that unrelated individuals can match on up to 9 out of 13 common markers used for evidence testing quite commonly. Some individuals can even match on 10 common markers, despite being complete strangers to each other.
6. We could use DNA fingerprinting to create new classes within our societies.
We are already screening newborns for certain diseases which could negatively impact their lives. What if those same tests were used to evaluate the DNA profile of the child? Information about their future health could create classification probabilities. Certain people could be charged more for healthcare because they are more susceptible to cancer.
Or what if some people are more likely to become obese, which causes medical providers to exclude diabetes coverage from that person’s insurance coverage? The information from DNA fingerprinting can be used for a lot of good things. It can also be used for a lot of bad things as well.
7. DNA fingerprinting information could be stored without personal permission.
When infants are tested for PKU in the United States, a blood sample is placed onto a filter paper card. The dried blood on these cards can be useful to maintain high levels of quality control at a laboratory. They can also provide public health benefits and offer assurance monitoring. The only problem with this practice is that some states in the U.S. store these cards, with personal DNA, for an indefinite period.
Other states destroy the cards after a few weeks. You will need to check with your state’s screening regulations to know what is stored and for how long.
8. International agencies may have DNA fingerprints without personal permission.
In the United States, the National DNA Index System, or NDIS, was created in 1994. It has become the largest DNA database in the world. It contains 12.2 million profiles from known criminals. It also contains 2.6 million profiles from people who were detained, but never convicted of a crime, and about 700,000 forensic profiles.
This database has assisted in more than 285,000 cases. It has also provided DNA information to other database systems around the world. Millions of people may have had their DNA fingerprints shared with other agencies without their knowledge or permission.
9. DNA fingerprinting relies on human accuracy.
DNA fingerprinting may provide another layer of evidence for law enforcement officials when building a case. It also relies on human judgment to create results that are available for interpretation. If an error occurs during the processing technique, then the results from the DNA fingerprinting may not be accurate. Improper handling techniques could affect the results as well. Incorrect result interpretation can also lead to wrongful conclusions about the information that was obtained.
10. It could result in ethnic targeting.
Without DNA fingerprinting, we have seen several cultures work to purge certain elements from their society. In extreme cases, ethnic targeting has led to genocide. The information that DNA fingerprinting provides would make it much easier to begin discriminating against people because of their ethnicity or their gender. It could also be used to allow people with a specific set of genetics to hold “rights” within a society because they have “better” DNA than others.
I recommend that you read these 22 surprising DNA exoneration statistics that support some of these pros and cons.
The top advantages and disadvantages of DNA fingerprinting give us an opportunity to create safer societies. We can discover more about our heritage and plan for future health needs. We could also use DNA fingerprinting to store information, use it to exclude people, or assume their identity. That is why the development of this technology is important, though it must come with certain rules or regulations to allow it to be implemented without causing harm.