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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Seek a DNA Database

The Interior Ministry is taking steps to set up a DNA database of people convicted of serious crimes, despite worries from experts about the confidentiality of the data and their possible misuse.

The ministry will submit legislation to the government within a few days that would ensure the mandatory collection of genetic profiles of all people convicted of serious crimes, Gennady Spirin, deputy head of the ministry's legal department, said in an interview Friday.

People also could voluntarily sign up to be in the database, whose purpose would be to fight crime, he said.

With the legislation, Russia would follow the lead of countries such as Britain, the United States, Canada and France. Britain has one of the largest DNA databases in the world, with about 3.5 million people, or 5.2 percent of the population, according to its government web site. A DNA sample can be taken from anyone who is arrested, even if that person is later released without charge.

The proposed Russian database would also include DNA samples from crime scenes, relatives of missing people, and unidentified bodies, Kommersant reported Friday.

A DNA database is a useful tool, and the collecting of samples from workers in high-risk jobs -- such as soldiers and firefighters -- makes sense, said Vera Izhivskaya, the acting director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Medical Genetic Center and an expert in bioethics.

"There are situations where it is needed," she said.

DNA testing has proved invaluable in helping identify servicemen killed in Chechnya.

But Izhivskaya cautioned that the database could be misused if it fell into the wrong hands.

"There are banking, telephone and other databases on the market," she said, referring to the illegal sale of databases at many Moscow computer markets. "Nobody can guarantee that this won't end up there."

If a database became widely available, it could be used in a number of dangerous ways, including to discriminate against people with genes that show a susceptibility to certain diseases, Peter Whittaker, a former member of the European Group for Ethics in Science and Technology, said by telephone from Britain.

"The rules of who appears in the database sound fine -- if it is not the thin end of the wedge to be [later] used to expand data to people where there is no clear reason to put them on the database," said Whittaker, when told of the ministry's plans.

Spirin refused to comment on the concerns.

Whitaker said he knew of no other countries that had volunteers signing up to be in a DNA database. "I don't see any great advantage to being in the database," unless you were lost and did not know who you were, he said.

Anyone wishing to voluntarily join will have to write a letter addressed to the interior minister, Kommersant said. Volunteers will also have to pay -- an unknown sum -- to appear on the database.

"You have to pay?" Whittaker said. "Good heavens. ... That's amazing."