of fingerprints has dramatically expanded. Forensic scientists can enter an unidentified latent-fingerprint pattern into an automated system and within minutes compare it with millions of person's patterns contained in a computer file. In its short history, automated fingerprint analysis has been credited with solving tens of thousands of crimes.
The computer technology required for an automated fingerprint identification system is sophisticated and complex. Fingerprints are complicated geometric patterns, and the computer must store, recognize, and search for complex and variable patterns of ridges and minutiae in the millions of prints on file. Several commercially available but expensive computer systems are in use around the world. In contrast, the computer technology required for DNA databanks is relatively simple. Because DNA profiles can be reduced to a list of genetic types (hence, a list of numbers), DNA profile repositories can use relatively simple and inexpensive software and hardware. Consequently, computer requirements should not pose a serious problem in the development of DNA profile databanks.
Confidentiality and security of DNA-related information are especially important and difficult issues, because we are in the midst of two extraordinary technological revolutions that show no signs of abating: in molecular biology, which is yielding an explosion of information about human genetics, and in computer technology, which is moving toward national and international networks connecting growing information resources.
Even simple information about identity requires confidentiality. Just as fingerprint files can be misused, DNA profile information could be misused to search and correlate criminal-record databanks or medical-record databanks. Computer storage of information increases the possibilities for misuse. For example, addresses, telephone numbers, social security numbers, credit ratings, range of incomes, demographic categories, and information on hobbies are currently available for many of our citizens in various distributed computerized data sources. Such data can be obtained directly through access to specific sources, such as credit-rating services, or through statistical disclosure, which refers to the ability of a user to derive an estimate of a desired statistic or feature from a databank or a collection of databanks. Disclosure can be achieved through one query or a series of queries to one or more databanks. With DNA information, queries might be directed at obtaining numerical estimates of values or at deducing the state of an attribute of an individual through a series of Boolean (yes-no) queries to multiple distributed databanks.
Several private laboratories already offer a DNA-banking service (sample storage in freezers) to physicians, genetic counselors, and, in some cases, anyone who pays for the service. Typically, such information as name, address, birth date, diagnosis, family history, physician's name and address, and genetic counselor's name and address is stored with samples.