It is now possible to identify a criminal by comparing a piece of DNA from a crime scene to facial photographs.
But for this to work, it will require huge photo archives, such as the Huduma Namba database, that when complete could hold up to 50 million facial images, making it ideal for such identification.
Using samples from the global human genbank called HapMap, a team of Belgian and American engineers has developed a computer app that can identify DNA owners from facial images with about 83 per cent success rate.
The HapMap stores DNA from 11 specific global communities, including from the Maasai of Kinyawa and Luhya of Webuye. For the breakthrough identification app to work effectively, lead study author Peter Claes of the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, says crime investigators will need huge photographic databases.
Such, he says, could include photo databases for ID cards, passports or driving licenses.
Dr Claes, in the new study published in the journal Nature Communications early this month, cautions that such databases require high security protections.
“Working with databases that contain private information such as DNA or faces requires strict supervision to prevent misuse,” said Claes in a statement.
“Identification of DNA by faces is a powerful crime-fighting tool, but also a terrifying new way to subvert privacy,” posted Futurism, a US technology blog of the new development.
The breakthrough happens as Kenya is preparing the Huduma Namba database, which rights groups say is not well protected.
Diana Gichengo, a programme manager with the Kenya Human Rights Commission, said as currently managed, the Huduma Namba does not adequately assure the security, safety or privacy of Kenyans.
The rights group cites the fact that Kenya is yet to enact the Data Protection Bill 2018, seen as the first piece of legislation that regulates how personal data is collected, processed, stored and disseminated.
But Information, Communication and Technology Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru has promised to publish a draft of the data protection law in the next few days.
The proposed law, Mucheru says, will specify how data can be stored and shared and will take into account standards set by laws outside Kenya including in the European Union.
But a recently published map showing the various sex workers’ locations and possible HIV hots pots in the world, including in Nairobi, may question Kenya government’s capacity to protect the privacy of its citizens against external interests. In 2013, civil rights groups successfully campaigned for the withdrawal of a Nairobi ‘sex map’ published in the international scientific journal Plos One.