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The ethical and legal implications of having a universal genetic database

DNA and pipettes
AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File
Should the US government have genetic data on everyone?
  • Katherine Ellen Foley
By Katherine Ellen Foley

Health and science reporter

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

The idea of a universal genetic database can sound like the stuff of dystopian sci-fi. If the government had access to your entire, uniquely-identifying genetic code, it could follow every move you make based on traces of DNA you leave behind. It could be privy to all kinds of private information about your health. It could be a biological Big Brother.

This isn’t far from reality. Right now, US law enforcement has what amounts to nearly open access to many Americans’ genetic data, thanks to the popularity of direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic tests.

DNA had a place in US law enforcement starting in the 1980s, but it wasn’t until 1990 that the FBI started looking at ways to create genetics-based forensic databases to solve violent crimes. Then, in 1994, the passage of the DNA Information Act cleared the way for the agency to develop a national database of criminal DNA.

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