Is Gattaca Already Here? An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Forensic Landscape of Biobanks
originally published inTexts and Articles from the 5th ICIL 2012. Dedicated to the memory of Evi Laskari, Nomiki Bibliothiki, 2013, pp. 370-398
29 Pages Posted: 30 Jul 2014
Date Written: July 27, 2014
In the film Gattaca Andrew Niccol describes a dystopian society whose basic law is genetic code. All citizens are catalogued in a database and selected for both professional and personal relationships on the basis of their genetic makeup. In the society of Gattaca, DNA is also used to conduct criminal investigations: because of a lash found at the crime scene, the main character Vincent Freeman will be falsely accused of manslaughter…
For some years, this scenario no longer belongs to the realm of science fiction. With advances in technology, the double helix of DNA is showing an arsenal of potentialities on the medical, scientific and social scenes. However, the use of genetics in the forensic field has raised several concerns from a legal point of view. On the one hand, lawyers are called upon to face an ever-evolving technology that challenges the traditional categories of law; on the other hand, technology itself allows lawyers to pursue the objectives of law in a more efficient way. This complex relationship can be appreciated only with a multidisciplinary approach, connecting exponents of the different disciplines that come into play.
Furthermore, two different areas of law that are often considered separate and uncommunicating worlds have also been called into this particular context: private and criminal law. We shall see that the forensic use of bioinformation has not only crucial procedural and criminal law aspects to be investigated, but it has also a heavy impact in civil law. Moreover, the interactions between these two branches of law could benefit the provision of a more efficient and homogeneous policy with regard to forensic biobanks, familial searching and the investigation access to research biobanks.
Hence, in the first paragraph we will outline a general overview of the use of bioinformation in the criminal investigation context. Since biological samples and genetic data are stored in dedicated structures, we will analyse the legal landscape of forensic biobanks, as delineated by international and regional regulations, and explain the main models adopted in the EU. After that, we will focus on the most crucial aspects emerging in criminal law with regard to the seizure of anonymised DNA samples, the practice of DNA dragnets and familial searching, and the potential return to a deterministic trend in evaluating the social dangerousness of a person under investigation or already convicted of a crime. Finally, we will point out the possible impacts of such practices in a civil law perspective, with regard to the right to privacy and data protection. The map of the issue will become more complicated if we consider the use of non-forensic biobanks for investigative purposes.
Keywords: biobank, forensic, privacy, DNA, criminal evidence
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