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Forensic Sci Int Genet. 2015 Jul;17:163-172. doi: 10.1016/j.fsigen.2015.05.010. Epub 2015 May 14.

About DNA databasing and investigative genetic analysis of externally visible characteristics: A public survey.

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Institute of Forensic Medicine, Forensic Molecular Biology Dpt., University of Bern, Sulgenauweg 40, 3007 Bern, Switzerland. Electronic address:
Institute of Forensic Medicine, Forensic Molecular Biology Dpt., University of Bern, Sulgenauweg 40, 3007 Bern, Switzerland. Electronic address:


During the last decade, DNA profiling and the use of DNA databases have become two of the most employed instruments of police investigations. This very rapid establishment of forensic genetics is yet far from being complete. In the last few years novel types of analyses have been presented to describe phenotypically a possible perpetrator. We conducted the present study among German speaking Swiss residents for two main reasons: firstly, we aimed at getting an impression of the public awareness and acceptance of the Swiss DNA database and the perception of a hypothetical DNA database containing all Swiss residents. Secondly, we wanted to get a broader picture of how people that are not working in the field of forensic genetics think about legal permission to establish phenotypic descriptions of alleged criminals by genetic means. Even though a significant number of study participants did not even know about the existence of the Swiss DNA database, its acceptance appears to be very high. Generally our results suggest that the current forensic use of DNA profiling is considered highly trustworthy. However, the acceptance of a hypothetical universal database would be only as low as about 30% among the 284 respondents to our study, mostly because people are concerned about the security of their genetic data, their privacy or a possible risk of abuse of such a database. Concerning the genetic analysis of externally visible characteristics and biogeographical ancestry, we discover a high degree of acceptance. The acceptance decreases slightly when precise characteristics are presented to the participants in detail. About half of the respondents would be in favor of the moderate use of physical traits analyses only for serious crimes threatening life, health or sexual integrity. The possible risk of discrimination and reinforcement of racism, as discussed by scholars from anthropology, bioethics, law, philosophy and sociology, is mentioned less frequently by the study participants than we would have expected. A national DNA database and the widespread use of DNA analyses for police and justice have an impact on the entire society. Therefore the concerns of lay persons from the respective population should be heard and considered. The aims of this study were to draw a broader picture of the public opinion on DNA databasing and to contribute to the debate about the possible future use of genetics to reveal phenotypic characteristics. Our data might provide an additional perspective for experts involved in regulatory or legislative processes.


Biogeographical ancestry; Database; Ethics; Externally visible characteristics; Public opinion

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