Vitor Richter, “There’s No Use for an Empty Database”: Techno-Politics of Brazil’s Forensic DNA Database and Its Promises

“There’s No Use for an Empty Database”: Techno-Politics of Brazil’s Forensic DNA Database and Its Promises

Vitor Richter, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul

Since 2009, following a collaborative agreement with the United States` Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), Brazil has increased its efforts to introduce forensic DNA databases in its techno-legal scenery. In 2012, a federal law regulating the use of this technology was approved in a rather fast legislative process and Brazil officially joined the large and expanding group of countries that store individuals’ genetic information in a national database for criminal investigations. It became the largest forensic DNA database network outside the United States. The introduction of this biotechnology, however, has been raising important legal, ethical, and practical challenges. Work around crime scene preservation, the mandatory sampling of DNA and its effects on prisoners’ bodily integrity and rights, genetic privacy and the right to refuse self-incrimination are among the main debates that are emerging from the early use of DNA databases for criminal investigations in the country. This paper will describe how Brazilian forensic geneticists face the practical challenges that emerge from relations with other institutions and infrastructures, such as the criminal justice system, police practices and the Brazilian carceral infrastructure, when the time to sample subjects’ DNA inside prison facilities and at crime scenes arrives. I will also address proposals to expand the criteria for inclusion of genetic profiles in the databases recently expressed in a bill written by the former Ministry of Justice, Sergio Moro, in an effort to think about the techno-politics of forensic genetic databasing, the grammar of punitivism, and rising authoritarianism in Brazilian politics.

Convenor: Jessica Sklair (Cambridge)

Date: 4 February 2021