August 26th, 2008

To DNA or not to DNA

Posted in The Job - General by 200

Those that have read this blog for any time will know that I’ve never been afraid of espousing an unpopular view, you just need to take a look at my thoughts on the legalisation of drugs if proof were required.

I feel that this post won’t be the most popular amongst serving officers, at least not judging by the opinions I’ve heard over the years.

The DNA Database, hmmm.

There is an argument for the collection of DNA from every resident in the country. It comes from certain quarters in the government & law enforcement. There is no doubt that if everyone’s DNA was on record we would solve an awful lot more crimes. The question is whether it is acceptable for the government/police to hold our DNA for purely speculative searching.

Currently, anyone processed for an arrestable offence is liable to have their DNA taken. If they are subsequently released without charge or found innocent at court, they have no rights to have their DNA samples destroyed. There are cases of completely innocent people having their DNA taken, enquiries have revealed, for instance, a case of mistaken identity, and they have been released but their DNA remains on file, for ever.

When the DNA database was first set up, the police were required to destroy samples of anyone found to be innocent, much like fingerprint records. An audit around this time found that 80,000 samples were never destroyed & held illegally. This was changed by legislation and now nobody has the right to have their sample destroyed.

A recent case which appeared in the dailies at the beginning of August featured a Tory MP, Greg Hands, who provided a DNA sample to the police after his uncle was murdered; he was eliminated from suspicion but has failed to get the police to destroy his sample. He said: “It seems to me that the Home Office and police are building up a national, universal DNA database by stealth. They are trying to get all 60million of us on it by hook or by crook. Parliament has never approved a universal DNA database.”

Supporters of a universal system say that if you have done nothing wrong, what have you got to worry about. But they miss the deeper, ethical issues. DNA is not only a record of my identity, it is a complete code which reveals much more than will be of use in a murder trial. My genetic makeup can reveal details of my ethnicity, of family connections & of my propensity for certain diseases.

It is wrong to discriminate on the basis of genetic heritage yet we already see insurance companies  having access to genetic information & refusing to insure people based potential medical conditions.

There have already been cases of the police carrying out medical tests on genetic material without the knowledge of the subject. In one case a witness in court found out he was HIV positive because a sample he had provided in an unrelated matter for which he was not charged, was tested & a lawyer let the cat out of the bag.

With the government’s willingness to either ‘lose’ extremely personal information or give it to foreign countries (USA), or their willingness to flaunt legislation (the 80,000 samples held illegally) who can trust them to keep your genetic information a secret between you & them?

There is a balance to be had between the need to be able to solve crime & the rights & privacy’s of the individual. I think the collection & preservation of DNA from people who are completely innocent tips the balance the wrong way.

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