by Dr. Hsien-Hsien Lei
Posted September 5, 2007 in DNA and the Law
Lord Justice Sedley, a senior appeal court judge in the UK, believes it is more fair to include everyone’s DNA in the national DNA database. This would include every resident along with every UK visitor and tourist.
Whoa! I can see the heads of DNA laboratory technicians exploding right now around the country. And how about the heads of the British Tourist Authority?
Sir Stephen Sedley says:
We have a situation where if you happen to have been in the hands of the police then your DNA is on permanent record. If you haven’t, it isn’t.
It means where there is ethnic profiling going on disproportionate numbers of ethnic minorities get onto the database.
It also means that a great many people who are walking the streets and whose DNA would show them guilty of crimes, go free.
It makes a certain perverse sense but the practicalities of such DNA collection requirements would topple any system. Just last week inaccuracies and fake names were revealed in the UK national DNA database, which is currently the largest in the world yet only captures about 5% of the UK population.
Telegraph readers have been commenting actively on this DNA-from-all proposal.
Dr. John Cameron:
I think it is an excellent idea, but then, I have nothing to hide!!
Dear Doctor Cameron, having nothing to hide does not mean you have nothing to fear.
You may have nothing to hide now, but what about the future? You may be happy to obey the current powers that be, but what if one day in the future, an authoritarian gov’t takes power or a religious government that orders you to carry out actions so inhuman that for reasons of conscience you feel you cannot agree to, and even felt it necessary to rebel against? How could they use this information!
And if not in your lifetime, what about the future freedom of your children?
Paranoia? Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, Mugabe…
After Iraq, can we really trust our leaders?
Brave New World, Farenheit 451, Nineteen Eighty Four…this is just another step towards these predictions.
Leo Enticknap, lecturer at the University of Leeds:
The benefits might outweigh the drawbacks, but there have to be robust safeguards against error and abuse. I would want to see the following as a bare minimum:
1. Every citizen is entitled to have their DNA entry checked against a sample they provide whenever they like, to ensure that someone else’s DNA is not registered against their name.
2. Use of the database is restricted to criminal investigations only.
3. The computer itself is run by independent civil servants entirely separate from the law enforcement authorities, and is not connected to the Internet or the outside world in any way (to minimise the risk of hacking or data theft).
4. A magistrate’s permission is needed for each and every ‘Who’s name does this sample correspond to?’ search, using a similar procedure to that which exists for issuing search warrants. Any police officer found to be requesting searches for any unauthorised or dishonest reason would face dismissal and a stiff jail sentence. Any search result which didn’t have an audit trail to prove that it had been properly approved could not be used in court.
5. Clear rules need to be put in place to determine when DNA evidence can and can’t be used to draw conclusions of guilt. Just as with fingerprints, it could be at a crime scene for a wholly innocent reason. For example, what happens if I have a drink in a pub, leave, and a fatal shooting takes place a few minutes later?
As for Ted (Wednesday at 9.44am)’s objection about tourists, the Americans already fingerprint and iris scan visitors, and that doesn’t seem to have destroyed their tourist industry. Were we to take DNA samples, it would be very useful as a way of identifying people who are trying to travel on someone else’s passport, for one thing, and I would wholly support this.
What say you? Would you visit a country that collected your DNA?
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