More on the DNA database

For those who read my blog on the Scottish Police Federation’s outcry against requiring recruits to submit DNA samples for the national database, don’t get me wrong. I do think DNA fingerprinting is a useful tool and I do not object to DNA testing of suspects during the investigation of crime, especially serious crime.

What I object to is the permanent storing, without consent, of DNA samples collected from suspects and volunteers regardless of whether they get convicted of a crime or not. This amounts to placing members of the general public under permanent suspicion regardless of whether they have a criminal record or not. And, as the Scottish Police Federation realise, those who have their DNA samples on the database are at risk of being framed for crime by those who’d abuse the system. The SPF’s objections when the police are demanded to give DNA samples, provide a stark contrast to the normally enthusiastic pronouncements of police spokesmen when the general public are demanded to give such samples.

Also, if samples can be permanently retained once given, regardless of whether a suspect or volunteer has been convicted or gives consent, this provides an incentive for the police and the authorities who maintain the database to get samples from people purely in order to have them on the database, and thus to arrest and charge people of a crime simply to get their DNA sample or to intimidate people into giving “voluntary” DNA samples. Those who think I’m being paranoid should take a look at this article from a local Sunderland newspaper:

Hundreds of men living on Seaham’s Westlea estate are to be tested after DNA, believed to be that of the attacker, was recovered from the crime scene. Police say they will “look closely” at anyone who refuses to take the DNA test.

And:

The screening will take us a major step nearer to finding the person responsible,” said Det Chief Insp Brian Tait, leading the investigation. He added: “Everyone who takes part will do so as a volunteer, but we would certainly look closely at the reasons offered by any individual who refused to help”.

Thus refusing to take the supposedly voluntary DNA test will ensure the police “look closely” at you. In this atmosphere, it appears that every man in a certain age group must give a test (and thus be permanently on the database) or be treated as highly suspicious at best, despite the fact they claim to be searching for an attacker with certain characteristics:

The man being hunted is thin, about six feet tall and was wearing a dark mask, dark top with hood and slightly lighter coloured trousers.

As a result, a large chunk of the male population of Seaham’s Westlea estate are about to have their DNA on the database permanently, and under some pressure, despite having committed no crime, and not being convicted or even being charged with a crime.

Of course, the police are investigating serious crime here — the rapes of 2 elderly women. Of course if they have good reason to suspect someone of committing the crime they should be able to do a DNA test as part of the investigation. But what is actually happening, I grant most probably through the best intentions of the police to solve this crime, is that a large number of men will be tested and their DNA permanently stored, even though they had nothing to do with the crime.

The sad thing is that the actual culprit now has a strong incentive to leave the area to avoid this publicised exercise in DNA collecting. Of course there’s no guarantee that if DNA samples had to be destroyed if the subject is released without charge or is acquitted, the police wouldn’t do a blanket testing like this. However the incentive to do so is greater with the permanent storage of even voluntary samples, and it appears that the police are pressurising every man they ask in this “voluntary” exercise to give a sample or else. And for those who want everyone’s DNA on the database these sorts of exercises provide a means of achieving this goal incrementally by stealth, as well as softening people up for the time when they make it compulsory.

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