Privacy and Discrimination

Privacy and Discrimination section

DNA can be used to identify individuals in a similar way to a fingerprint. This means it can be used to track individuals, using databases which link a person's DNA to their name and address or other personal information. DNA can also reveal who a person is related to and some information about their risk of future illness. This can include very personal information such as non-paternity and whether a person might be at risk of passing a genetic disorder onto their children. Testing and storing DNA therefore raises important issues about privacy and rights.

In Britain, the police National DNA Database is the second largest in the world (after the US) and includes many people who have never been convicted of any offence. Police DNA databases are also being set up or expanded in in other countries.

There have been several attempts to build a genetic database by the backdoor in the National Health Service (NHS), by allowing storage and testing of DNA without consent, so that genetic sequences can be stored in electronic medical records. You can read about these plans (including proposals to sequence the DNA of every baby at birth) in the Genes and the NHS section of this website.

People with adverse genetic test results may be discriminated against in the future by insurers or employers. The Equalities Act will prevent employers asking for genetic test results, but insurers are prevented from using most genetic test results only by a voluntary agreement.


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