Feeds

Forensics reaches into the future

How far should we let the DNA database go?

Secure remote control for conventional and virtual desktops

Earlier this year at an event jointly run by the Home Office and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) we saw a project led by Cranfield University to replace the time-honoured tradition of experts making highly educated time of death guesstimates. An arsenal of analytical techniques is being developed to turn the art into a science.

Project leader Dr Peter Zioupos said: "The future of age-at-death determination lies with analytical techniques rather than expert-based assessments. Our technique could help to identify victims of accidents, natural disasters and suicide, as well as murder. We aim to offer it as a forensic service within the next 12 months."

Perhaps we'll see CSI's impossibly well-groomed investigators replaced by banks of whirring mass spectrometers. Or not.

Frakenstein's monster?

While everyone else seems permanently impressed with DNA forensics, the man who pioneered DNA fingerprinting has repeatedly voiced fears over the mission creep that has characterised the NDNAD's first decade. A series of law changes has seen the Home Office's power to take and retain profiles have fewer and fewer limits.

In autumn, Alec Jeffreys told the BBC:" When the DNA database was initially established it was to database DNA from criminals such that if they reoffended they could be picked up. Hundreds of thousands of entirely innocent people now populate that database. My view is that that's discriminatory, that those people will be very skewed socioeconomically and ethnically so there's clear discrimination there."

Thirty-seven per cent of all black men in the UK are on the database, compared to 10 per cent on white men.

The government revealed the full extent of the NDNAD's innnocents roster only recently, bumping it up to 1,139,445 in response to a parliamentary question. The new figure is eight times a total given earlier in the year.

Such civil libertarian collywobbles do not wash with the Prime Minister, who on a visit to the FSS said there should be "no limits" to the size of the NDNAD, and has volutarily submitted his own genetic profile.

There are murmurs of government complacency on the issues from within the forensic community; it is left to NGOs like Genewatch UK (which has an essential backgrounder here) and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, which is consulting on the NDNAD and expects to report next autumn, to examine the controversy.

In his comments, Jeffreys also singled out for criticism the lack of parliamentary debate over familial searches, which hugely extend the database's reach.

The essential guide to IT transformation

Next page: The final frontier

More from The Register

next story
Apple promises to lift Curse of the Drained iPhone 5 Battery
Have you tried turning it off and...? Never mind, here's a replacement
China: You, Microsoft. Office-Windows 'compatibility'. You have 20 days to explain
Told to cough up more details as antitrust probe goes deeper
BBC: We're going to slip CODING into kids' TV
Pureed-carrot-in-ice cream C++ surprise
Linux turns 23 and Linus Torvalds celebrates as only he can
No, not with swearing, but by controlling the release cycle
Scratched PC-dispatch patch patched, hatched in batch rematch
Windows security update fixed after triggering blue screens (and screams) of death
This is how I set about making a fortune with my own startup
Would you leave your well-paid job to chase your dream?
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.