Retaining the Genetic Profile of Innocent People: A Difficult Balance Between Respecting the Individual’s Privacy and Public Security

Luciana Caenazzo and Pamela Tozzo

Synesis: A Journal of Science, Technology, Ethics, and Policy 2013; 4: G14-18

In the course of investigations related to a penal prosecution in Italy, biological material obtained from individuals considered directly involved in a crime, but neither suspected nor prosecuted, may be acquired without their knowledge and/or consent. Although scientific progress constantly provides greater potential to forensic investigations, new ethical implications arise from the need to balance the greater efforts towards justice which science allows against the protection of individual human rights. The issue that arises in our case is that a biological sample (and consequently a genetic profile) acquired without the consent and knowledge of the subject might become discriminatory and stigmatizing for the subjects involved (individuals involved in the life of the victim, but neither suspected of carrying out the crime, nor prosecuted) should the investigative activity enter the public domain. The protection of an individual’s privacy within the context of the investigations goes beyond normal parameters of guarantee, because the risk of placing the identification process outside the control of the individuals is real. This risk therefore has a social relevance, considering that the investigative process might become discriminating and stigmatizing should the investigation enter the public domain. The safeguarding of privacy rights and the guarantee of society security must not contradict, but rather complement, each other.


Keywords: genetic profile, individual privacy, public security