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Biotech Government Politics

Bioethics Group Raises DNA Database Concerns 150

PieGuy107 writes "In its report, The Forensic Use of DNA and Fingerprints: Ethical Issues, the council recommends that police should only be allowed to permanently store bio-information from people who are convicted of a crime. Today, the police of England and Wales have wider sampling powers than the police force of any other country, and the UK has (proportionally, per head of population) the largest forensic database in the world. When the police first began using DNA, consent was required before samples could be taken. A succession of Acts of Parliament and legislative amendments has increased police powers of sampling; the police can now take DNA samples from all persons arrested, without their consent, for recordable offenses (an "arbitrary" classification), and retain the samples indefinitely regardless of whether the person arrested is subsequently convicted or even charged. In response to comments from the Home Office that retaining the DNA of people who were innocent at the time of arrest had helped to solve crimes they committed years later, the Nuffield Council stuck to its guns. "There has to be a limit to police powers," said Dr Carole McCartney, one of the report's authors. "DNA shouldn't be retained simply on the basis that it might turn out to be useful." She added that many of the statistics from the Home Office were "inconsistent, incomplete and confusing" and that much of its evidence consisted of anecdotal accounts of "horrible men caught with DNA"."
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Bioethics Group Raises DNA Database Concerns

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  • by MillionthMonkey ( 240664 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:20PM (#20668903)
    If your cousin gets arrested and take his fingerprints, they have information on him. If they sample his DNA, they have information on you.
  • by epee1221 ( 873140 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:23PM (#20668951)

    "DNA shouldn't be retained simply on the basis that it might turn out to be useful."
    Yes, in the same way that random searches and seizures shouldn't be performed simply on the basis they evidence of a crime might turn up. I thought it was a well-established and accepted idea that a fishing expedition is a Bad Thing.
  • by GungaDan ( 195739 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:23PM (#20668959) Homepage
    and subsequently lawmakers will make it a crime to refuse to "donate" your DNA to the police database. Problem solved.

  • by BUL2294 ( 1081735 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:24PM (#20668969)
    ...if one of these DNA databases gets hacked??? What if a criminal's DNA entry gets transposed with that of someone else??? I mean it's not like government agencies are known for securing their networks very well []...
  • by SirGeek ( 120712 ) <> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:26PM (#20669015) Homepage

    Only here, it will be needed for all school children. They'll have to have their DNA recorded before they're allowed to enter the public school system.

    It will be touted as "This is to help protect children from being kidnapped by a non-custodial parent or, God forbid, to identify a child if they have been killed.

    Then if every child grows up with this being the "norm" what happens ?

  • by MBCook ( 132727 ) <> on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:28PM (#20669031) Homepage

    I'd say the standard should be the same as all evidence. Are they allowed to keep your mug-shot forever (yes, as far as I know). If they take a handwriting sample and you are not convicted, are they allowed to keep that? The standard should be the same for DNA. They certainly get to keep your fingerprints right?

    If they request and get it during the course of an investigation I think they should get to keep it. I see no reason why they shouldn't.

    If they start abusing this (arresting people on provably fake charges and such) just to get DNA, they you can do a civil suit. The judge will make 'em toss it and the millions they'll have to shell out every time will help keep them honest.

    But if you are at a murder scene and have knife scratches on you, the police should get to keep your DNA if they use it to rule you in or out, just like they get to keep pictures of you.

    Now if you want to make it so they can keep the DNA but it can't be admitted to court (so they couldn't convict you on that alone) then I would be fine with that. That's probably a good idea, in fact.

  • and subsequently lawmakers will make it a crime to refuse to "donate" your DNA to the police database. Problem solved.
    No. They'll make it a crime for everyone but them.
  • by MrNemesis ( 587188 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:31PM (#20669079) Homepage Journal
    ...the vast majority of the British public won't give a shit.

    On the one hand, they're spoonfed endless pseudo-forensic schpiel that give the (false) impression of DNA being nigh-infallible. On the other hand, they're stuffed full of political propaganda telling us how DNA sampling will make $random_crime a thing of the past, how it'll mean that "paedophiles can no longer pretend to be teachers!" and on the third, weirdly mutant hand (broken index in the DNA database I think), years of being taught not to think critically and not to question authority (gubmint knows best!). All you need to do to pass a draconian law is to fawn to the Daily Mail-reading "Middle England" about paedophiles and illegal immigrants (is it rascist to say the Brits are sterotypically xeonphobic? That was certainly my impression growing up) and all of a sudden people can't vote for you quickly enough.

    Disclaimer: yes, I am a British citizen. I don't believe the majority of our public could stand up to a wet paper bag. I would love to be proved wrong. UK is in a race to be the first "democratic" police state, who wants to join us and finish second?
  • by PlatyPaul ( 690601 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:33PM (#20669101) Homepage Journal
    Not exactly. Given that each person's DNA is derived from both of their parents' sets, as well as the introduction of , the amount of mutual information between your DNA and any relative becomes drastically small. []
  • by cayenne8 ( 626475 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:35PM (#20669123) Homepage Journal
    Ah, but, such a database would be helpful in the future, when it is feasible to sequence/synthesize someone's DNA, or just enough of it to 'plant' on a crime scene, just in case they don't have a suspect, or you really didn't leave enough there on the scene.

    Not that anyone need be paranoid about the cops ever planting evidence.....

  • What Happens? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Veetox ( 931340 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:35PM (#20669127)
    Maybe we really just need to take a broader approach: EVERYONE gets their DNA mapped and EVERYONE's DNA is made public. We should know just as much about government personel as they do about us. It's possible, and, I suppose, likely, that the information could be used for segregational purposes, but I think we should just bite the bullet and find a good way to render the information constitutionally now, instead of waiting for problems to show up. Bottom line: We're not going to be able to keep our DNA code a personal secret forever - just look what's happening to SS#'s.
  • by locofungus ( 179280 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @12:59PM (#20669469)
    The problem comes about because the police don't have a clue.

    Consider the scenario. You are arrested for a crime you didn't commit. Fortunately, despite the police trying to pin it on you, the real culprit confesses and you are released without a stain on your character.

    Then a little while later you are arrested again because your fingerprints (which were only stored because you were incorrectly arrested before) are found on some recovered stolen mail. The only problem being that you were the _VICTIM_ of the theft. Yes! Your fingerprints were on the mail because you _POSTED_ it!

    No attempt by the police to investigate. Finger print match. Call the person in to the station. Arrest them immediately. And then tell them to accept a caution to get it over with!

    Think it's a tall story? []

  • by ashtophoenix ( 929197 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:08PM (#20669619) Homepage Journal
    I agree. This is a very serious issue. Wonder what can be done to stop things from getting to that point (the point where genetic predisposition for a crime is used to search through the db to identify potential criminals). Any ideas?
  • by zuzulo ( 136299 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:36PM (#20670031) Homepage
    Hm, i wonder if anyone is making aerosol cans each filled with some (full or partial) DNA data from 100,000+ randomly selected folks. Then all you have to do as a paranoid nutter is fire off a few shots of this can anywhere you think you may be leaving DNA. ah, progress. Gotta love it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:49PM (#20670293)
    This is the natural course of every government: slow but steady expansion of power and revenue over time. History has taught this lesson over and over but still we ignore it, choosing instead to put our blind trust in centralized power, as if somehow this time it will work. Some governments expand more quickly than others, but all governments only get bigger over their lifetimes, never smaller. This is a very important point to consider, ANY time you are evaluating the actions of government.

    It's not because "the people" want this, and it's not because "the people" don't care -- let's put down the ideology for a second and take a peek at reality. It's because the power elite -- those in the business of government -- want this. More revenue, more control, more marketshare -- what central planner doesn't want that?

    Naturally, as goverment grows bigger and bigger each year -- measured both in revenue per population and power over the people -- there has to come a point where this kind of thing (mass surveillence, mass spying and record-keeping of private lives) becomes reality. It has to. How can they continue the expansion of government without these things? These programs won't just bring in more revenue and power to government today -- they will set a precedent for future expansions of revenue and power.

    No government in history has ever significantly and permanently reduced its power or revenue through the process of democracy. There's a reason for that, and it's not apathy, or laziness, or blind obedience, or whatever other bury-my-head-in-the-sand excuse we can come up with -- it's because making government bigger equals more profit for those in the business of government. It always has.

    So what is the solution? I don't know if there is one, besides moving to a country where the ruling government isn't quite as far along down its inevitable path to totalitarianism. Hell, even the United States, which was originally founded on the principle of strict limits on government power, couldn't keep government under control.

    Perhaps emigration really is the only answer; that is, if you can still get out.
  • by Reziac ( 43301 ) * on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @01:51PM (#20670323) Homepage Journal
    That would probably be easy to make, too... just collect human waste from anywhere (grey water from public laundries would be a great source) and process it down to a suitable form.

    I foresee yet another banned technology.....

  • by Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Wednesday September 19, 2007 @02:01PM (#20670503)
    For years, prosecutors have been fond of citing "statistics" that purportedly show that DNA matching is reliable to "1 in billions". However, this has never actually been established.

    For one thing, the figures cited are founded on the assumption that the DNA sites that are being matched up are individually independent. But they have not established that beyond a reasonable doubt yet.

    Here is an example of what I mean: what are the odds that a randomly-sampled American has the genes that result in curly hair? Relatively low... maybe around 0.2 or so.

    On the other hand: what are the odds that the same person has the genes for curly hair... GIVEN THAT he also has the genes for sickle-cell anemia? That would be pretty high: maybe around 0.99, give or take.

    Individual genes (or lots of them anyway) are NOT completely independent. They depend on others in complex ways that are not yet fully understood. And until we understand more about that, we should be very careful before making claims about the "reliability" of such tests. In certain cases (and there is no reliable way to tell which), the reliability of the test might only be 1 in 100,0000 or even less. That might still sound like a lot, but it is not. That would match 4 or 5 people just in my immediate area.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"