DNA and the slippery slope

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  1. Actually, a ‘good’ DNA sample is every bit as valid an identifier as a fingerprint. The real problem is, as you somewhat alluded to, why they are doing this – in other words, what they want the samples for. That is far scarier: at first pass, the intent is to build up a massive database they can run samples recovered at crime scenes through, in an attempt to improve their “solve” rate. Certainly a noble idea, right? And, who in their right mind would be opposed to solving murders, rapes, and child molestations? But, once they have this database, there will be temptations to see what else they can do with it. For example, can we use DNA profiles to determine who might be susceptible to certain medical conditions, then sell that data to advertisers? Or, if we can determine that certain DNA markers indicate a predisposition to certain anti-social attributes (for example, burglary or spousal abuse or opposition to government policies) we can “flag” those individuals for special treatment (e.g. detention during certain holidays, or when the President is in town.)
    Given the government’s single-minded focus on data-mining as a means of catching maybe-terrorists, this is certainly something to keep one awake at night.

  2. I agree with Ed in that DNA evidence that’s collected and managed properly is an excellent identifier of individuals. As most you know, being a Houstonian, there are problems with this aspect of the technology.
    This is all the more true because the interpretation of DNA evidence is a specialized function. Ask lay persons to verify that a fingerprint matches and you’ll get fairly good results. Not so with DNA processing. This creates a potential single point of failure, as we’ve seen with the HPD lab.
    But even if DNA is handled correctly there are huge ethical problems with the collection of samples from innocent people. Marry these DNA samples with a moderately sized database and you’ve got a national registration system that even a government agency could implement without difficulty. These systems, of course, live forever.
    In my opinion, the risk to civilians from such a database’s existence, even in the hands of an elected government, outweighs its possible benefits in terms of increased security.

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