A criminal DNA database

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A criminal DNA database

Police investigating the crimes of self-confessed serial killer Kang Ho-sun said he had committed nine crimes, including robbery and assault, prior to his latest killing of a college student. The latest discovery was made possible by finding DNA on his jacket, which belonged to a 48-year-old housewife who disappeared in November 2008. The police could have caught him earlier if there had been a database of criminals’ DNA, including Kang’s. The tragic death of the 21-year-old college girl could have been prevented.

A criminal DNA bank, which has been already widely embraced in many advanced countries, is nowhere near being adopted in Korea. Since the Justice Ministry and the police mapped out a blueprint for the measure in 1994, the same debates over possible human rights violations have been repeated for the past 15 years with no conclusion.

In 2006, a legislative proposal to collect and manage a DNA database of criminals was sent to the National Assembly after being approved by the cabinet. But the proposal went nowhere amid intense criticism by human rights groups. Now the Justice Ministry is known to be putting together new legislation with more details on how to collect and maintain a database of criminals’ DNA.

Certainly a DNA database can pose grave dangers to society and infringe on human rights if abused or leaked into the wrong hands. There have been reports that those with certain DNA combinations were shunned by health insurance companies or rejected by potential employers in some countries. For instance, the British government drew intense public fury when about one-fourth of the database its interior ministry and the police had collected turned out to belong to innocent citizens.

But if you look at the latest case of the serial killer Kang, the legislation can be equally valuable. We are now facing desperate public calls to prevent highly recidivistic crimes like sexual assaults and serial murders, and the human rights of potential victims are equally important. In order to quell concerns about possible human rights violation, the criminals whose DNA is stored in the database should be strictly confined to those who have committed serious offenses including murder, robbery, rape, kidnapping or sexual abuse of children.

Information about ethnicity, gender or medical history should be excluded from the database and rigorous rules to strictly maintain the DNA bank must be enforced so it can’t be used for other means.

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