Many countries — all over the world — have begun collecting genetic materials from millions of people, claiming the draconian measures assist in the fight against terrorism and other crime.
Critics, on the other hand, say it’s unethical and not in the name of citizen safety.
United States leaders along with its Supreme Court recently upheld the DNA swabs collection of suspects upon arrest. In Britain, police and nearly seven million people’s DNA until a court ordered the incineration of most of the database. Thanks to recent leaks regarding U.S. surveillance programs, people have become more aware that their digital information and electronic communications are not as secured as previously thought. Could human genes — DNA — be used to watch people’s movements, track relatives, etc.?
While DNA is a powerful medium in catching criminals — people who commit various crimes (murder, rape, robbery, etc.) — there are some issues regarding privacy. The United States holds the largest DNA database (CODIS) of more than 11 million people who have been suspected or actually convicted of a crime.
U.S. Supreme Court Rules Warrants Not Needed For DNA Collection
The issue is set to increase after a May Supreme Court ruling that said police had the right to get DNA swabs from people they had arrested without warrants. Each state varies in regarding to DNA collection policies. Currently, over half of the states as well as the federal government take DNA swabs after a person has been arrested.
Justices were also divided regarding the implications that it would have on people’s rights. Justice Antonin Scalia, who voted against the idea, said taking DNA marked a serious change in the powers of the police. He said it didn’t matter if a person was guilty or not, the DNA database would have information.
What DNA Collecting Could Really Mean
British geneticist Alec Jeffreys said authorities could use this genetic information to collect data on people’s psychological profile, medical history and racial origins. Simply put, if there is no regulation and police can do anything they want, they have the authority to use the DNA to learn about a person’s ancestry, kids and their health.
According to University of Baltimore’s Clinical Assistant Professor in Forensic Studies Charles Tumosa, suspects’ relatives could be located through DNA and pressed for information regarding their family members. Already, police have used DNA information of innocent civilians to arrest criminals.
Tumosa pointed out when is enough — should society be happy with 100 percent of the crimes solved but their privacy violated or should they be happy with five percent of crimes going unsolved?
Yes, terrible crimes have been solved through familial DNA such as the serial killer Dennis Rader who was found through his daughter’s DNA obtained during a paper smear…without her consent. And, more like it.
Innocent Until Proven Guilty: Not Anymore, Say Legal Experts
While thousands of crimes have been solved in Britain, hundreds of thousands of other people — innocent people that include children — are tainted and shamed by being included in the criminal suspects’ database. According to legal experts, this undermines the presumed innocent notion.
GeneWatch, a privacy group, and its director Helen Wallace said many British folks were shocked to learn they and their children ended up in the database for something as simple as throwing snowballs at vehicles. GeneWatch advocates putting restrictions on DNA and other personal information collection.
After a lengthy court battle regarding an 11-year-old youth arrested for suspicion of attempted robbery and had his DNA taken despite an acquittal, his DNA remained in the database, which according to the European Court of Human Rights, violated the child’s right to live in private.
U.K. Act Demands Government Destroy DNA Profiles
Under U.K.’s Protection of Freedoms Act the government has to destroy DNA profiles of millions of folks arrested — not convicted – of minor offenses. People who are acquitted of serious crimes will have a DNA profile for no more than five years. Samples of DNA that are gathered from suspects must be eliminated after six months.
Critics of the DNA databases said it’s a means to snoop and getting rid of the samples means the DNA can’t be used to find relatives or predisposition to disease.
According to DNA authorities, there is illogical fear regarding genetic intrusion. According to former U.S. attorney Chris Asplen, DNA isn’t that much different from other data authorities have information on about millions of people like social security numbers, vehicle registrations and fingerprints.
Asplen said there is a possibility of abuse.
He said because there is the existence of biological samples, the argument could be the government could use it to do other non-authorized things with it. Asplen said when it comes to technology, there is always going to be tension between people and the government — federal, state or local.