Implications of collecting DNA samples

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Cathy » Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:23 am UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:Seen as the UK and US don't have full ID databases (officially, unofficially the driver's license and tax databases do a pretty good job), wouldn't we have to establish a national ID database before a DNA one would be any use?


Actually, in the US the Social Security cards are pretty much an ID database. The only people who don't have them are illegal immigrants, and many of them get only slightly falsified, but otherwise usable/accurate, SSCs. You need a Social Security number to get a bank account, a drivers license, pay taxes, and go to college. And while I admit there are probably people with none of those, they are in the minority.

Frankly, I view a DNA database as just one more piece of information. The only big hurtle would be to get juries to see that DNA evidence isn't the Be-All-End-All of a case.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Mon Jun 27, 2011 3:32 am UTC

Cathy wrote:The only big hurtle would be to get juries to see that DNA evidence isn't the Be-All-End-All of a case.


Which would probably be easier if defense attorneys were able to cross-examine the lab techs and get them to point out that the markers matched 50 people, not just 1.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Deep_Thought » Mon Jun 27, 2011 9:11 am UTC

Cathy wrote:...The only people who don't have them are illegal immigrants, and many of them get only slightly falsified, but otherwise usable/accurate, SSCs...

Do you not see how this means the SSN system is pretty insecure and useless as a provable identity system? If you can get a usable number with only "slightly falsified" information, what's the point?

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Rainsborough » Mon Jun 27, 2011 6:36 pm UTC

I just want to back track slightly and focus on the whole 2000 matches and 1999 false positives thing and why the police would probably need to exhaustively investigate all matches. If we imagine a scenario where they didn't:

Clever Defence Barrister: So Inspector Lestrade, I believe you first identified my client via a DNA match.

Lestrade: That was the initial impetus for our investigation of the defendant.

CDB: And my client was the only match to the sample found at the scene?

Lestrade: Well, no...

CDB: No? I'm confused [turns to jury exaggeratedly stroking chin] precisely how many matches were there?

Lestrade: Well, there were 2000 matches.

CDB: 2000! What made you choose my client rather than any of the other 1999 matches? Did you perhaps pick his name out of a hat? [turns to bask in the chuckles of the jury]

Lestrade: No, he was the only one who was close to the victim.

CDB: He was close to the victim. I see so you arrested and interrogated my client because he was a friend of the victim, because there was a fraternal bond between them, and it was this... this love, I don't think that is too strong a word, that made you sure that it was my client and not one of 1999 other people who committed this vile crime?

Lestrade: * embarrassed mumble

CDB: No more questions m'lud.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Plasma Man » Mon Jun 27, 2011 6:48 pm UTC

D.B. linked to the Wikipedia page for the UK DNA Database, which ties in nicely with the research I've been doing, as it links to the case of S and Marper v. United Kingdom. In this case, the European Court of Human Rights held that holding DNA samples of individuals arrested but who are later acquitted or have the charges against them dropped is a violation of the right to privacy under the European Convention on Human Rights. It is interesting to note that in the judgement, the court commented in paragraph 119 that:
In this respect, the Court is struck by the blanket and indiscriminate nature of the power of retention in England and Wales. The material may be retained irrespective of the nature or gravity of the offence with which the individual was originally suspected or of the age of the suspected offender; fingerprints and samples may be taken – and retained – from a person of any age, arrested in connection with a recordable offence, which includes minor or non-imprisonable offences. The retention is not time-limited; the material is retained indefinitely whatever the nature or seriousness of the offence of which the person was suspected. Moreover, there exist only limited possibilities for an acquitted individual to have the data removed from the nationwide database or the materials destroyed (see paragraph 35 above); in particular, there is no provision for independent review of the justification for the retention according to defined criteria, including such factors as the seriousness of the offence, previous arrests, the strength of the suspicion against the person and any other special circumstances.
It also uses paragraph 125 to state:
In conclusion, the Court finds that the blanket and indiscriminate nature of the powers of retention of the fingerprints, cellular samples and DNA profiles of persons suspected but not convicted of offences, as applied in the case of the present applicants, fails to strike a fair balance between the competing public and private interests and that the respondent State has overstepped any acceptable margin of appreciation in this regard. Accordingly, the retention at issue constitutes a disproportionate interference with the applicants' right to respect for private life and cannot be regarded as necessary in a democratic society. This conclusion obviates the need for the Court to consider the applicants' criticism regarding the adequacy of certain particular safeguards, such as too broad an access to the personal data concerned and insufficient protection against the misuse or abuse of such data.
In the following paragraph, they conclude that there has been a violation of Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
As Article 8 is based on privacy, and given the finding that the database "fails to strike a fair balance between the competing public and private interests", plus the repeated stressing of the blanket and indiscrimate nature of the database, this strongly suggests that a mandatory DNA database of all citizens would also be in violation of Article 8.

I've also found a follow-up judgement from the UK Supreme Court, in the case of R (on the application of GC) (FC) (Appellant) v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. Unless you're really interested, it's not worth plowing through the whole thing, as confirms the result of S and Marper v The United Kingdom (2008), finding that the police policy of retaining DNA breached the Article 8 right to privacy. What is interesting is very near the start, on page 3, paragraph 1:
There can be no doubt that a national database containing the data of the entire population would lead to the conviction of persons who would otherwise escape justice. But such a database would be controversial. It is not permitted by our law.
(emphasis mine)
So, a mandatory DNA database is not allowed under UK law, and any attempt to introduce one would breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

I also attempted to find some information comparing the proportion of a country's population on a DNA database with the proportion of crimes solved in that country, but failed to come up with anything. I did find this article from the Times (a respectable broadsheet newspaper), which states that:
More than one million new DNA profiles taken from individuals or the scene of crimes have been added to the database over the last two years bringing the total to more than 5.6 million.

Over the same period of time the number of crimes solved where a genetic match was available fell by 16,000, according to the 2009 report of the operation of the database.
While this isn't the hardest of evidence, it does suggest that adding more people to a DNA database does not necessarily lead to more crimes being solved.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Mon Jun 27, 2011 7:26 pm UTC

Rainsborough wrote:I just want to back track slightly and focus on the whole 2000 matches and 1999 false positives thing and why the police would probably need to exhaustively investigate all matches. If we imagine a scenario where they didn't:

[snipped]

CDB: He was close to the victim. I see so you arrested and interrogated my client because he was a friend of the victim, because there was a fraternal bond between them, and it was this... this love, I don't think that is too strong a word, that made you sure that it was my client and not one of 1999 other people who committed this vile crime?

Lestrade: * embarrassed mumble

CDB: No more questions m'lud.


And then the prosecution presents all of the other evidence they have to clearly show that the defendant is the perpetrator. Seriously, what is it with people assuming that DNA evidence is going to be the only evidence involved in a case?

Plasma Man wrote:So, a mandatory DNA database is not allowed under UK law, and any attempt to introduce one would breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

That's great? Obviously some of us would disagree with whether it should be illegal.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Rainsborough » Mon Jun 27, 2011 9:10 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:And then the prosecution presents all of the other evidence they have to clearly show that the defendant is the perpetrator. Seriously, what is it with people assuming that DNA evidence is going to be the only evidence involved in a case?


Yes but you see that such a DNA match (with a relatively large number of matches of which the defendant is one) would create more doubt in a court of law than it would certainty. As such it would be detrimental to the prosecution's case.

Plasma Man wrote:So, a mandatory DNA database is not allowed under UK law, and any attempt to introduce one would breach Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.

That's great? Obviously some of us would disagree with whether it should be illegal.[/quote]

Yes but you haven't answered the substantive issue that the respective courts raised
Spoiler:
The European Court of Human Rights wrote:70. In Van der Velden, the Court considered that, given the use to which cellular material in particular could conceivably be put in the future, the systematic retention of that material was sufficiently intrusive to disclose interference with the right to respect for private life (see Van der Velden cited above). The Government criticised that conclusion on the ground that it speculated on the theoretical future use of samples and that there was no such interference at present.
71. The Court maintains its view that an individual's concern about the possible future use of private information retained by the authorities is legitimate and relevant to a determination of the issue of whether there has been an interference. Indeed, bearing in mind the rapid pace of developments in the field of genetics and information technology, the Court cannot discount the possibility that in the future the private-life interests bound up with genetic information may be adversely affected in novel ways or in a manner which cannot be anticipated with precision today. Accordingly, the Court does not find any sufficient reason to depart from its finding in the Van der Velden case.
72. Legitimate concerns about the conceivable use of cellular material in the future are not, however, the only element to be taken into account in the determination of the present issue. In addition to the highly personal nature of cellular samples, the Court notes that they contain much sensitive information about an individual, including information about his or her health. Moreover, samples contain a unique genetic code of great relevance to both the individual and his relatives. In this respect the Court concurs with the opinion expressed by Baroness Hale in the House of Lords (see paragraph 25 above).
73. Given the nature and the amount of personal information contained in cellular samples, their retention per se must be regarded as interfering with the right to respect for the private lives of the individuals concerned. That only a limited part of this information is actually extracted or used by the authorities through DNA profiling and that no immediate detriment is caused in a particular case does not change this conclusion (see Amann cited above, § 69).
74. As regards DNA profiles themselves, the Court notes that they contain a more limited amount of personal information extracted from cellular samples in a coded form. The Government submitted that a DNA profile is nothing more than a sequence of numbers or a bar-code containing information of a purely objective and irrefutable character and that the identification of a subject only occurs in case of a match with another profile in the database. They also submitted that, being in coded form, computer technology is required to render the information intelligible and that only a limited number of persons would be able to interpret the data in question.
75. The Court observes, nonetheless, that the profiles contain substantial amounts of unique personal data. While the information contained in the profiles may be considered objective and irrefutable in the sense submitted by the Government, their processing through automated means allows the authorities to go well beyond neutral identification. The Court notes in this regard that the Government accepted that DNA profiles could be, and indeed had in some cases been, used for familial searching with a view to identifying a possible genetic relationship between individuals. They also accepted the highly sensitive nature of such searching and the need for very strict controls in this respect. In the Court's view, the DNA profiles' capacity to provide a means of identifying genetic relationships between individuals (see paragraph 39 above) is in itself sufficient to conclude that their retention interferes with the right to the private life of the individuals concerned. The frequency of familial searches, the safeguards attached thereto and the likelihood of detriment in a particular case are immaterial in this respect (see Amann cited above, § 69). This conclusion is similarly not affected by the fact that, since the information is in coded form, it is intelligible only with the use of computer technology and capable of being interpreted only by a limited number of persons.
76. The Court further notes that it is not disputed by the Government that the processing of DNA profiles allows the authorities to assess the likely ethnic origin of the donor and that such techniques are in fact used in police investigations (see paragraph 40 above). The possibility the DNA profiles create for inferences to be drawn as to ethnic origin makes their retention all the more sensitive and susceptible of affecting the right to private life. This conclusion is consistent with the principle laid down in the Data Protection Convention and reflected in the Data Protection Act that both list personal data revealing ethnic origin among the special categories of sensitive data attracting a heightened level of protection (see paragraphs 30-31 and 41 above).
77. In view of the foregoing, the Court concludes that the retention of both cellular samples and DNA profiles discloses an interference with the applicants' right to respect for their private lives, within the meaning of Article 8 § 1 of the Convention.


Spoiler:
Lady Hale wrote: Serious bodies have cast doubt upon the usefulness of retaining it even for the permitted purposes. Both the Human Genetics Commission (Nothing Page 20 to hide, nothing to fear? Balancing individual rights and the public interest in the governance and use of the national DNA Database, November 2009) and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (The forensic use of bioinformation: ethical issues, September 2007) suggest that the value of casting the net so wide has not yet been proved. (d) Liberty point out, in their intervention, that certain sections of the population, in particular men and people from the black and minority ethnic communities, run a disproportionate risk of arrest and therefore of having their data taken and kept. This is a detriment with a discriminatory impact.
(e) The detriment is the stigma, certainly felt and possibly perceived by others, involved in having one’s data on the database. This stigma, together
with wider concerns about potential misuse, is sufficient to outweigh the benefits in the detection and prosecution of crime.


Spoiler:
The Nuffield Council on Bioethics wrote:39. The report also expressed concerns at the increasing use of the DNA data for familial searching, inferring ethnicity and non-operational research. Familial searching is the process of comparing a DNA profile from a crime scene with profiles stored on the national database, and prioritising them in terms of 'closeness' to a match. This allowed identifying possible genetic relatives of an offender. Familial searching might thus lead to revealing previously unknown or concealed genetic relationships. The report considered the use of the DNA data base in searching for relatives as particularly sensitive.
40. The particular combination of alleles3 in a DNA profile can furthermore be used to assess the most likely ethnic origin of the donor. Ethnic inferring through DNA profiles was possible as the individual “ethnic appearance” was systematically recorded on the data base: when taking biological samples, police officers routinely classified suspects into one of seven “ethnical appearance” categories. Ethnicity tests on the data base might thus provide inferences for use during a police investigation in order for example to help reduce a 'suspect pool' and to inform police priorities. The report noted that social factors and policing practices lead to a disproportionate number of people from black and ethnic minority groups being stopped, searched and arrested by the police, and hence having their DNA profiles recorded; it therefore voiced concerns that inferring ethnic identity from biological samples might reinforce racist views of propensity to criminality.


If you would address the above concerns I would perhaps be willing to see things your way but as it is...

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EDIT: Fixing the tags.
Last edited by Rainsborough on Mon Jun 27, 2011 10:11 pm UTC, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Mon Jun 27, 2011 9:57 pm UTC

Rainsborough wrote:Yes but you see that such a DNA match (with a relatively large number of matches of which the defendant is one) would create more doubt in a court of law than it would certainty. As such it would be detrimental to the prosecution's case.

Er, no?

Doubt is the default; DNA evidence narrowing the field down does not create "more doubt".

Rainsborough wrote:If you would address the above concerns I would perhaps be willing to see things your way but as it is...

The concerns were (a) about inferring ethnicity from studying other samples, (b) about some people have a higher chance of being in the database than others, and (c) about familial inference. You realize that (a) and (b) would be moot points if a universal database existed, right?

Point (c) is a function of the markers chosen for the UK system, which could be adjusted.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby DaBigCheez » Mon Jun 27, 2011 10:11 pm UTC

Rainsborough wrote:Yes but you see that such a DNA match (with a relatively large number of matches of which the defendant is one) would create more doubt in a court of law than it would certainty. As such it would be detrimental to the prosecution's case.

...In the proposed case, the lead that led them to believe the defendant was a plausible suspect was the DNA match, combined with closeness.
The evidence they gathered as a result of that investigation led them to believe the suspect was guilty.
I don't think the response to
Rainsborough wrote:so you arrested and interrogated my client because he was a friend of the victim, because there was a fraternal bond between them, and it was this... this love, I don't think that is too strong a word, that made you sure that it was my client and not one of 1999 other people who committed this vile crime?

would be an "embarassed mumble", it would be "No, that did not make us sure it was your client. It led us to investigate your client as a suspect in the case. I have presented further evidence resulting from that investigation as part of my testimony which indicates the defendant's guilt."

EDIT: To clarify, if all they *did* have to go on in this case was the DNA evidence, they would be perfectly justified in being laughed out of court. As discussed earlier, that would be a GOOD result of a nationwide DNA database - fewer false positives resulting from DNA evidence being seen as less conclusive in and of itself.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Rainsborough » Mon Jun 27, 2011 10:45 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
Rainsborough wrote:Yes but you see that such a DNA match (with a relatively large number of matches of which the defendant is one) would create more doubt in a court of law than it would certainty. As such it would be detrimental to the prosecution's case.

Er, no?

Doubt is the default; DNA evidence narrowing the field down does not create "more doubt".


It provides evidence against 1999 additional suspects, that evidence would not have existed otherwise. The defence can pick any one of these at random and conduct their own investigation into that person's life highlighting whatever seems to suggest they committed the crime. That is how it creates doubt, any defence counsel approaching competency would have an absolute field day painting sinister pictures of all these other potential suspects.

Aaeriele wrote:
Rainsborough wrote:If you would address the above concerns I would perhaps be willing to see things your way but as it is...

The concerns were (a) about inferring ethnicity from studying other samples, (b) about some people have a higher chance of being in the database than others, and (c) about familial inference. You realize that (a) and (b) would be moot points if a universal database existed, right?

Point (c) is a function of the markers chosen for the UK system, which could be adjusted.


There were certainly more than three objections contained within the quoted passages. If it helps I will summarise those I feel most prescient to your arguments:

1. The European Court of Human Rights is of the opinion that de jure as well as de facto that retention of cellular material and genetic profiles is a serious infringement of an individuals right to respect for private life. I assume that you believe that such a right should exist, if so tell my the ECHR is wrong in stating that a breach had occurred.

2. Both the ECHR and others have noted that DNA profiles have been used for Racial Profiling, a practice that I hope you will agree is despicable. There is no indication that this would stop simply because the database was universal. Furthermore it is evidence that the authorities are willing and able to use a database for nefarious and immoral purpose, strengthening the argument against allowing the authorities such a database.

3. Both the Human Genetics Commission and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (independent and respective scientific and academic bodies) have reported that there is no evidence that a Universal DNA database would be have any value. Why do you know better.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Mon Jun 27, 2011 11:05 pm UTC

Rainsborough wrote:It provides evidence against 1999 additional suspects, that evidence would not have existed otherwise. The defence can pick any one of these at random and conduct their own investigation into that person's life highlighting whatever seems to suggest they committed the crime. That is how it creates doubt, any defence counsel approaching competency would have an absolute field day painting sinister pictures of all these other potential suspects.

And this is different from any other evidence that is not unique to a single individual, how?

Rainsborough wrote:1. The European Court of Human Rights is of the opinion that de jure as well as de facto that retention of cellular material and genetic profiles is a serious infringement of an individuals right to respect for private life. I assume that you believe that such a right should exist, if so tell my the ECHR is wrong in stating that a breach had occurred.

And I disagree with the ECHR's statement in that regard, at least in as far as it applies to forensic DNA marker databases. Appeal to authority isn't going to hold much weight with me, especially when that authority isn't speaking directly to the topic, but rather to a specific current practice.

Rainsborough wrote:2. Both the ECHR and others have noted that DNA profiles have been used for Racial Profiling, a practice that I hope you will agree is despicable. There is no indication that this would stop simply because the database was universal. Furthermore it is evidence that the authorities are willing and able to use a database for nefarious and immoral purpose, strengthening the argument against allowing the authorities such a database.


Er, how could it not stop if the database was universal? The whole point of "racial profiling" in this particular context is to infer from a sample which has no direct match in the database information about who the sample came from. Since there are matches in the database (due to its comprehensive nature), such profiling is not only pointless, but not even possible, since you know exactly all of the people that match that sample. Sure, you can say that "80% of the matches for this sample are asian", but there's no point to it since that's not going to translate to pulling in non-matching black individuals as suspects, and it's not going to prevent the 20% of the matches who are non-asian from being considered.

Rainsborough wrote:3. Both the Human Genetics Commission and the Nuffield Council on Bioethics (independent and respective scientific and academic bodies) have reported that there is no evidence that a Universal DNA database would be have any value. Why do you know better.


"No evidence for value" is not the same as "evidence for no value". Considering the fact that no universal DNA database has ever existed, it seems rather logical to realize that there would be rather little evidence towards its potential value or lack thereof. Furthermore, the sources you are quoting are not even speaking about a universal DNA database, but rather about the current DNA database, and thus are weighing it against the biasing factors that I have already pointed out would not apply to such a universal database.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jun 28, 2011 2:40 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:And I disagree with the ECHR's statement in that regard, at least in as far as it applies to forensic DNA marker databases.
But that's not all the ruling applies to, because that's not all that was being retained.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Plasma Man » Tue Jun 28, 2011 4:13 pm UTC

Also, given that the ECHR judgement I linked to was based on the right to privacy, and given that Roe v. Wade was decided on the right to privacy... I doubt you're going to convince many people on this board that giving up personal privacy is acceptable.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Griffin » Tue Jun 28, 2011 6:35 pm UTC

God damn it I hate these forums sometimes. That was a really long post that got eaten and I can't be arsed to rewrite it. To summarize:

Many of us don't support the right to privacy so much as the right to autonomy, which is the basis for the Roe vs Wade decision. They are tied under the legal definition of privacy, but that is only because the legal definition of privacy covers several different things and because of historical precedent.

Second, the GPS thing is stupid, and if you bring it up you are doing something stupid. The gross violations involved in forcibly implanting a device into a persons body without their consent are not comparable to being able to see who they are from leftover materials by comparing it to a database.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Tue Jun 28, 2011 7:06 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:Also, given that the ECHR judgement I linked to was based on the right to privacy, and given that Roe v. Wade was decided on the right to privacy... I doubt you're going to convince many people on this board that giving up personal privacy is acceptable.


No one here is saying that the right to privacy should be given up.

Some of us simply disagree with the ECHR as to whether or not forensic DNA markers violate privacy.

Please, get that through your head and stop trying to attack an argument I'm not making.


gmalivuk wrote:
Aaeriele wrote:And I disagree with the ECHR's statement in that regard, at least in as far as it applies to forensic DNA marker databases.
But that's not all the ruling applies to, because that's not all that was being retained.


Which is why I put that qualifier on it, because that's the only part that's relevant to what I'm talking about.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby gmalivuk » Tue Jun 28, 2011 7:14 pm UTC

And again, I have to point out that the real-world situation that prompted this thread in the first place didn't just involve 13 forensic markers. So that's not what most of the rest of us are even talking about, and it's not what the ECHR made a decision about.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Tue Jun 28, 2011 7:21 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:And again, I have to point out that the real-world situation that prompted this thread in the first place didn't just involve 13 forensic markers. So that's not what most of the rest of us are even talking about, and it's not what the ECHR made a decision about.


My apologies then for thinking that the topic of conversation had shifted; it certainly seemed like a lot of people (especially Plasma Man and Rainsborough) and most of the recent posts were attacking my arguments/beliefs regarding a universal DNA database of forensic DNA markers, as opposed to the original story...
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby A_pathetic_lizardmnan » Tue Jun 28, 2011 7:45 pm UTC

Gvmalivuk, am I correct in inferring that you agree that a DNA database would be useful in terms of forensics, but think that such a database would cause more harm than good in areas other than criminal investigation? If so, what are these specific areas where abuse could occur?


EDIT: I have seen some concern as to nefarious purposes these DNA samples could be used for. Does anyone have any idea what particular nefarious purposes these might be? So far, racial profiling, becoming a suspect when you shouldn't be investigated because of your right to be considered innocent, and false positives/negatives have been debunked, convincing juries of the non-perfect nature of the evidence is still up in the air, and potential hacking into the system for unethical personal use is a distinct problem. So far, the positives seem to far outweigh the negatives. I have looked in the thread no fewer than 5 times, and I have not seen any specific, non-hypothetical problems that have not been addressed.
Last edited by A_pathetic_lizardmnan on Wed Jun 29, 2011 6:29 am UTC, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Cheezwhiz Jenkins » Tue Jun 28, 2011 10:37 pm UTC

A_pathetic_lizardmnan wrote:Gvmalivuk, am I correct in inferring that you agree that a DNA database would be useful in terms of forensics, but think that such a database would cause more harm than good in areas other than criminal investigation? If so, what are these specific areas where abuse could occur?
Read the thread. This has already been discussed at least twice, maybe three times.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Plasma Man » Wed Jun 29, 2011 9:24 am UTC

A_pathetic_lizardmnan, do you not regard violation of privacy as being a "nefarious purpose"? Or do you not regard forcing people to give DNA as being a violation of privacy?

Similarly, Aaeriele, could you please tell me where you think your right to privacy ends? I don't want to attack an argument you're not making, so what do you regard as being private and personal, and what is up for grabs?
I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but I'll give a few hypotheticals that you can consider. You've repeatedly reiterated your support for a compulsory database of DNA markers, so would you support:
1) A compulsory database of fingerprints?
2) A compulsory database of full DNA profiles?
3) Requiring those entering the country to undergo ultrasound or MRI scanning to make sure they're not smuggling anything inside their bodies? (picked these techniques as they don't involve ionising radiation, so are not physically risky)

As I say, these are just some examples I've come up with as food for thought - you can choose to address them or give your own definition of where you think the right to personal privacy ends.

Aaeriele wrote:"No evidence for value" is not the same as "evidence for no value". Considering the fact that no universal DNA database has ever existed, it seems rather logical to realize that there would be rather little evidence towards its potential value or lack thereof.
So a DNA database is Russell's teapot?
More seriously, different countries have different proportions of their populations on their DNA databases. Can you find any evidence to show that countries that have a higher proportion of the population on the DNA database have a higher proportion of crimes solved? As I said towards the end of this post, I tried to find some information on this, but only came up with the article that I linked to, which showed that adding more people to the DNA database does not always increase the number of crimes that are solved using the database.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Deep_Thought » Wed Jun 29, 2011 12:36 pm UTC

A_pathetic_lizardmnan wrote:I have looked in the thread no fewer than 5 times, and I have not seen any specific, non-hypothetical problems that have not been addressed.

How do we point out non-hypothetical problems with a hypothetical universal DNA database?

Semantic arguments aside, on a practical note, how do you ensure that the database is accurate? Great, you've collected 300 million DNA samples from the US population. In order to make these of any use to the police, you also have to collect 300 million names and address, and match them against the DNA. Maybe date of birth and a mugshot too. You have to keep this up to date - no point in having a DNA sample that claims John Doe lives in New York if he has moved to California and then commits a crime in Texas.

You've then got to keep this all secure, and make it really difficult for people to obtain new IDs with faked information (unlike SSNs etc.). As we've already discussed the current marker systems generate false positives, so how does matching against DNA already in the system prevent you from registering a faked ID?

The problems I have with a DNA database are the same I have with any government ID scheme. These issues are not negligible, and as I have already pointed out I do not trust the current UK government to get them right.

Also, am I the only one who thinks this thread has started to go in circles?

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Plasma Man » Wed Jun 29, 2011 2:34 pm UTC

I may be biased, but I think you're right, the thread has started to go in circles. The pattern seems that seems to be repeating is that opponents of a mandatory DNA database come up with evidence showing how DNA systems can go wrong - then proponents of it claim it can work and will lead to more crimes being solved, but without offering any evidence to support that position.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Wed Jun 29, 2011 4:05 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:Similarly, Aaeriele, could you please tell me where you think your right to privacy ends? I don't want to attack an argument you're not making, so what do you regard as being private and personal, and what is up for grabs?
I'm not trying to put words in your mouth, but I'll give a few hypotheticals that you can consider. You've repeatedly reiterated your support for a compulsory database of DNA markers, so would you support:
1) A compulsory database of fingerprints?
2) A compulsory database of full DNA profiles?
3) Requiring those entering the country to undergo ultrasound or MRI scanning to make sure they're not smuggling anything inside their bodies? (picked these techniques as they don't involve ionising radiation, so are not physically risky)

1) Sure.
2) No, and you should know the answer to this already, since I've already stated I would have problems with it.
3) No, because a. MRI scanning can by physically risky, b. they are both a significant physical inconvenience, and c. they provide a heck of a lot more individual detail (like a full DNA profile) on their own, without correlating a match.

Plasma Man wrote:
Aaeriele wrote:"No evidence for value" is not the same as "evidence for no value". Considering the fact that no universal DNA database has ever existed, it seems rather logical to realize that there would be rather little evidence towards its potential value or lack thereof.
So a DNA database is Russell's teapot?
More seriously, different countries have different proportions of their populations on their DNA databases. Can you find any evidence to show that countries that have a higher proportion of the population on the DNA database have a higher proportion of crimes solved? As I said towards the end of this post, I tried to find some information on this, but only came up with the article that I linked to, which showed that adding more people to the DNA database does not always increase the number of crimes that are solved using the database.

The actual information available from the article is very sparse, but a couple of things to consider:

1. As the number of records in the database goes up, the potential for more than just one of them to match also increases, which is a good thing, because it brings to light that DNA isn't perfect. It's quite possible that the reason the number of "solved" cases before was due to more single-matches being assumed guilty purely (or close to purely) due to a DNA a match, and thus when the number of matches increased, those poor assumptions go down.

2. DNA's ideal purpose is as a lead-finder, and the vague numbers provided in the article for the number of leads generated is far more than the number of cases solved. Sometimes even if you have a good lead, a case still doesn't get solved for one reason or another.

Plasma Man wrote:The pattern seems that seems to be repeating is that opponents of a mandatory DNA database come up with evidence showing how DNA systems can go wrong - then proponents of it claim it can work and will lead to more crimes being solved, but without offering any evidence to support that position.


Er, I've more offered the reasoning how a universal system would actually address the problem put forward in those articles. Do you care to dispute my reasoning in that regard?
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Deep_Thought » Wed Jun 29, 2011 4:49 pm UTC

@Aeriele: Fingerprints may not be as good for identification purposes as we would wish them to be. This is an issue with biometrics, DNA, and every other system of identifying humans that has ever been tried. It turns out that, physically, we're not always unique. What makes us unique is our social interactions, and those are notoriously difficult to quantify in a meaningful way.

Aaeriele wrote:2. DNA's ideal purpose is as a lead-finder, and the vague numbers provided in the article for the number of leads generated is far more than the number of cases solved. Sometimes even if you have a good lead, a case still doesn't get solved for one reason or another.

I have to disagree here. The exact usefulness of DNA as a lead-finder would depend on its specificity. I don't have numbers for that, but what with familial similarity and the concerns about LCN techniques I mentioned far above in this thread I suspect the specificity of a universal database would not be high. DNA could end up sending police down a lot of dead-ends. To my mind DNA would best be used to exclude suspects from investigation. As in, the police suspect a person due to circumstantial evidence, but their DNA does not match the blood stain found on the victims clothes. Hence they're likely not the (only) person the police should be looking for.

But, what with me being neither a policeman or a trained forensic expert, I'm probably not best qualified to make such statements.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Wed Jun 29, 2011 5:13 pm UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:@Aeriele: Fingerprints may not be as good for identification purposes as we would wish them to be.


Considering I have no strong desire for them to be excessively useful, I'm not sure why you're quoting that to me. (I see fingerprints as being even less invasive than forensic DNA markers, thus the amount of benefit necessary to tip the balance from hassle to worthwhile is rather low.)

Deep_Thought wrote:DNA could end up sending police down a lot of dead-ends.

Better a lot of dead ends, and then one that finally pans out, than nothing at all.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Deep_Thought » Wed Jun 29, 2011 5:47 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:Considering I have no strong desire for them to be excessively useful, I'm not sure why you're quoting that to me. (I see fingerprints as being even less invasive than forensic DNA markers, thus the amount of benefit necessary to tip the balance from hassle to worthwhile is rather low.)

Simply because you said you would support a universal database of fingerprints, unless I've totally misread your earlier post.

Better a lot of dead ends, and then one that finally pans out, than nothing at all.

You have to balance that against the likelihood of an innocent man being sent to jail just because his DNA happened to be at the scene. People in the UK have been convicted on not a great deal more. You obviously fall on one side of that fence, I'm on the other.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Wed Jun 29, 2011 6:08 pm UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:You have to balance that against the likelihood of an innocent man being sent to jail just because his DNA happened to be at the scene. People in the UK have been convicted on not a great deal more. You obviously fall on one side of that fence, I'm on the other.


Okay, I'm going to repeat this one more time, because it seems to have been missed the first 3-4 times:

one of the main reasons I'm for a universal DNA database is because it would help reduce the perception that DNA evidence is "perfect".

I'm just as strongly as you against having people wrongly convicted due to DNA evidence. I think a universal DNA database would help with that problem, rather than exacerbate it, by increasing the visibility of the imperfect nature of DNA matching.


It is very easy to say "this person was a match, thus they must be guilty!" when you only have one match in a database. It is much harder to say "this person was a match, thus they must be guilty" when they were one of 2000 matches.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Soralin » Wed Jun 29, 2011 7:15 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
Deep_Thought wrote:You have to balance that against the likelihood of an innocent man being sent to jail just because his DNA happened to be at the scene. People in the UK have been convicted on not a great deal more. You obviously fall on one side of that fence, I'm on the other.


Okay, I'm going to repeat this one more time, because it seems to have been missed the first 3-4 times:

one of the main reasons I'm for a universal DNA database is because it would help reduce the perception that DNA evidence is "perfect".

I'm just as strongly as you against having people wrongly convicted due to DNA evidence. I think a universal DNA database would help with that problem, rather than exacerbate it, by increasing the visibility of the imperfect nature of DNA matching.


It is very easy to say "this person was a match, thus they must be guilty!" when you only have one match in a database. It is much harder to say "this person was a match, thus they must be guilty" when they were one of 2000 matches.

Who says there would be 2000 matches? If your technique for matching various tiny sections of DNA has a 1/million chance of a false positive, and there's a million people in the database, then you should expect about 1 false positive for every case. So if the person who's DNA was checked wasn't there, how exactly would that work out if there's 1, and only 1 match? If the chances of a false positive are about the same or slightly smaller than the database, then it could mean that there's only 1 match for any given case.

Although in practice, what should be done is to bring that one person in, and then do a more accurate test, between them and the sample that you want to compare them against. Assuming such a test is available. But that would require that the people in control of the prosecution decide to do something that could damage their case, or if they do find that it doesn't match, that they decide to tell anyone, or that the defense is allowed access to the samples in question to do their own tests, and then if the prosecution and the defense disagree on their tests, who is telling the truth, etc. etc. It's not like the labs running these tests are necessarily impartial, it may be the case that the only lab which is allowed to handle the evidence may be a lab under the administration of the police. I seem to recall such a case where such a lab was withholding evidence that wouldn't help out the prosecution.

Ah, here with a google search: North Carolina Crime Lab withheld Evidence in Over 200 Cases

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby DaBigCheez » Wed Jun 29, 2011 7:23 pm UTC

Soralin wrote:Who says there would be 2000 matches? If your technique for matching various tiny sections of DNA has a 1/million chance of a false positive, and there's a million people in the database, then you should expect about 1 false positive for every case. So if the person who's DNA was checked wasn't there, how exactly would that work out if there's 1, and only 1 match? If the chances of a false positive are about the same or slightly smaller than the database, then it could mean that there's only 1 match for any given case.


...Hence how having a comprehensive national database, and thus 230-ish million people, would make the database more useful than an incomplete database, as stated numerous times before. This also eliminates the "person whose DNA was checked wasn't there" problem.

I have reservations about whether it's possible to realistically administrate such a database, but I really don't understand how this is supposed to be a counterargument to the hypothetical of a complete and compulsory national DNA-marker database, unless you're claiming that we would reach those odds of a false positive at "everyone included in the database" population levels.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Wed Jun 29, 2011 7:51 pm UTC

Soralin wrote:It's not like the labs running these tests are necessarily impartial, it may be the case that the only lab which is allowed to handle the evidence may be a lab under the administration of the police. I seem to recall such a case where such a lab was withholding evidence that wouldn't help out the prosecution.

Ah, here with a google search: North Carolina Crime Lab withheld Evidence in Over 200 Cases


If crime-fighting units aren't dedicated to justice, that's a separate problem, independent of anything specific to DNA. (And in fact, the linked article talks about blood tests, not DNA specifically.)
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Rainsborough » Wed Jun 29, 2011 9:41 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
Soralin wrote:It's not like the labs running these tests are necessarily impartial, it may be the case that the only lab which is allowed to handle the evidence may be a lab under the administration of the police. I seem to recall such a case where such a lab was withholding evidence that wouldn't help out the prosecution.

Ah, here with a google search: North Carolina Crime Lab withheld Evidence in Over 200 Cases


If crime-fighting units aren't dedicated to justice, that's a separate problem, independent of anything specific to DNA. (And in fact, the linked article talks about blood tests, not DNA specifically.)


It's not a separate issue because these are the people you are advocating have access to the data, it's not enough to say well if the police were never corrupt/lazy and if the government was only ever made up of people of the highest integrity and if every jurist had a PhD in statistical inference and if data security was impregnable then a universal database would be great.

There are huge practical issues that you seem to dismiss offhand. That's not even going into the moral and ethical problems which you don't seem to have a problem with. One of the fundamental principles of human rights is that a person's body is inviolate which is why we have the concept of assault in the first place.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Wed Jun 29, 2011 10:24 pm UTC

Rainsborough wrote:There are huge practical issues that you seem to dismiss offhand.

When I'm discussing the theoretical benefits of a universal DNA database, yes, I'm going to dismiss certain practical issues. I find it highly unlikely that any universal DNA database would become a reality anytime soon, thus I'm not really bothering to consider the current practical limitations in what is very much a hypothetical area of the topic.

Rainsborough wrote:That's not even going into the moral and ethical problems which you don't seem to have a problem with. One of the fundamental principles of human rights is that a person's body is inviolate which is why we have the concept of assault in the first place.

We also don't sue people who brush against us on the subway.


Rainsborough wrote:It's not a separate issue because these are the people you are advocating have access to the data, it's not enough to say well if the police were never corrupt/lazy and if the government was only ever made up of people of the highest integrity and if every jurist had a PhD in statistical inference and if data security was impregnable then a universal database would be great.

But the same argument could be made for any kind of information in the hands of those who are corrupt/lazy/lacking integrity; there's nothing there specific to forensic DNA markers. Hence why it's a separate (if possibly related) problem.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Whimsical Eloquence » Wed Jun 29, 2011 10:50 pm UTC

Rainsborough wrote:There are huge practical issues that you seem to dismiss offhand. That's not even going into the moral and ethical problems which you don't seem to have a problem with. One of the fundamental principles of human rights is that a person's body is inviolate which is why we have the concept of assault in the first place.


How exactly does a DNA database violate that principle? If someone manufactures genetic material with the same DNA as my own and prods it then they're not assaulting me, they're prodding a small bit of genetic material.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Rainsborough » Wed Jun 29, 2011 11:35 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
Rainsborough wrote:There are huge practical issues that you seem to dismiss offhand.

When I'm discussing the theoretical benefits of a universal DNA database, yes, I'm going to dismiss certain practical issues. I find it highly unlikely that any universal DNA database would become a reality anytime soon, thus I'm not really bothering to consider the current practical limitations in what is very much a hypothetical area of the topic.


Then we are talking at cross purposes, this is an area of real concern among civil liberties and bioethics groups in the UK, nearly 10% of the population is already on a DNA database including myself btw. This is not an abstract issue for a hell of a lot of people and I am not willing to examine it in the context of 50 years in the future.

Rainsborough wrote:That's not even going into the moral and ethical problems which you don't seem to have a problem with. One of the fundamental principles of human rights is that a person's body is inviolate which is why we have the concept of assault in the first place.

We also don't sue people who brush against us on the subway.[/quote]

First assault is a criminal act thus it is a crime against the state (or the Crown in dear old blighty) not the individual, a criminal prosecution is different to a civil action, i.e. suing (literally to file a suit) someone. Secondly there is a doctrine of Implied Consent that by getting on the tube I impliedly consent to a reasonable and expected amount of contact (which if it's the Circle Line at rush hour is my face being lodged in someone elses armpit). Such an implied consent does not exist for the government to assault me in the course of obtaining a DNA sample.

Whimsical Eloquence wrote:
Rainsborough wrote:There are huge practical issues that you seem to dismiss offhand. That's not even going into the moral and ethical problems which you don't seem to have a problem with. One of the fundamental principles of human rights is that a person's body is inviolate which is why we have the concept of assault in the first place.


How exactly does a DNA database violate that principle? If someone manufactures genetic material with the same DNA as my own and prods it then they're not assaulting me, they're prodding a small bit of genetic material.


That's not really what I'm going for. To obtain a DNA sample I necessarily have to be assaulted or more technically battered.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Wed Jun 29, 2011 11:42 pm UTC

Rainsborough wrote:Such an implied consent does not exist for the government to assault me in the course of obtaining a DNA sample.

Rainsborough wrote:That's not really what I'm going for. To obtain a DNA sample I necessarily have to be assaulted or more technically battered.


Some of us operate under more reasonable definitions of assault and battery. Considering that a DNA sample could be obtained from you spitting in a cup, there is no necessary physical contact involved. The methods that do involve physical contact are currently those used simply because they offer a better sample quality. As far as what's required, though, there is no more "assault" involved than someone taking your picture - which is generally required to obtain any form of government ID (at least in the US, and I would guess that the same is probably true in the UK).
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Rainsborough » Thu Jun 30, 2011 12:04 am UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
Rainsborough wrote:Such an implied consent does not exist for the government to assault me in the course of obtaining a DNA sample.

Rainsborough wrote:That's not really what I'm going for. To obtain a DNA sample I necessarily have to be assaulted or more technically battered.


Some of us operate under more reasonable definitions of assault and battery. Considering that a DNA sample could be obtained from you spitting in a cup, there is no necessary physical contact involved. The methods that do involve physical contact are currently those used simply because they offer a better sample quality. As far as what's required, though, there is no more "assault" involved than someone taking your picture - which is generally required to obtain any form of government ID (at least in the US, and I would guess that the same is probably true in the UK).


Reasonable? My definition is the correct one. Battery is the application of force (any amount of force) to a person. There is no requirement for hostility or even directness. Any physical contact is prima facie a battery though this is usually negatived by consent (implied or otherwise.) As to spitting in a cup (apart from issues of contamination) I could probably make an argument as to that being theft, but I won't. The point is that I would still have to be forced to do so.

There is no requirement for me to hold any form of photo identification in this country as it happens, the fact I do is entirely my choice, something the taking a mandatory DNA sample would not be.

Question: What if a mandatory database is introduced and someone refuses to give a sample? Would you advocate the use of force to retrieve one.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Thu Jun 30, 2011 12:13 am UTC

Rainsborough wrote:Reasonable? My definition is the correct one. Battery is the application of force (any amount of force) to a person. There is no requirement for hostility or even directness. Any physical contact is prima facie a battery though this is usually negatived by consent (implied or otherwise.) As to spitting in a cup (apart from issues of contamination) I could probably make an argument as to that being theft, but I won't. The point is that I would still have to be forced to do so.

Reasonable in the sense of as a definition for an illegal act that is worth reacting to. If someone taps you on the shoulder without your consent, and you go to the police station and ask to file a report, the people there are probably going to laugh at you.

Rainsborough wrote:Question: What if a mandatory database is introduced and someone refuses to give a sample? Would you advocate the use of force to retrieve one.

What if a mandatory tax is introduced, and someone refuses to pay their taxes? Same concept, same consequence.

===

Say instead that providing a sample were only necessary to obtain a government ID. Thus, you are not required to provide a sample, however, if you don't, services that require government ID would be unavailable. What then?
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Rainsborough » Thu Jun 30, 2011 12:36 am UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
Rainsborough wrote:Question: What if a mandatory database is introduced and someone refuses to give a sample? Would you advocate the use of force to retrieve one.

What if a mandatory tax is introduced, and someone refuses to pay their taxes? Same concept, same consequence.

===

Say instead that providing a sample were only necessary to obtain a government ID. Thus, you are not required to provide a sample, however, if you don't, services that require government ID would be unavailable. What then?


Taxes are part of the social contract, we pay them to fund certain goods and services from local and central government.

On a practical level your second suggestion appears reasonable I have to say, but as I've said I am not required to have photo ID simply to function as part of society, the only form of photo ID I have is a passport for which the only purpose is for foreign and domestic customs.

I'm pretty sure that neither of us can win this argument, practicalities aside we have differing views on what Privacy constitutes, perhaps the only thing I can say is that mine is the view shared by the European Convention on Human Rights and Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which I believe to be some of the most important and laudable documents ever created by mankind. Still I recognise that that is not a valid argument so I guess we'll just have to disagree.

I profoundly disagree with your viewpoint and hope that it does not become the prevailing one. I can only hope that you'll change your mind independently of my inept attempts to change it for you.
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Whimsical Eloquence
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Whimsical Eloquence » Thu Jun 30, 2011 2:57 am UTC

Rainsborough wrote:
I'm pretty sure that neither of us can win this argument, practicalities aside we have differing views on what Privacy constitutes,


Hang on, I thought your objection was on grounds of Assault - Right to Bodily Integrity rather than Privacy? Which didn't seem to be the view of the European Courts (you share the view of the Court, not the document, only the Court's current interpretation of the Document).

As for your actual objection:

Rainsborough wrote:
That's not really what I'm going for. To obtain a DNA sample I necessarily have to be assaulted or more technically battered.

Question: What if a mandatory database is introduced and someone refuses to give a sample? Would you advocate the use of force to retrieve one.


Okay. I think you've a somewhat confused understanding of the Law/Jurisprudence here. The State has a necessary monopoly on force by virtue of the Social Contract - it employs this monopoly of force - legal, authoritative force (which is not comparable or even related to assault) - to enforce the laws and statutes it enacts. Hence, the enforcement of any State order - whether the supply of sample, the supply of taxes, the apprehension into custody, the forcible removal from property - is done via necessary force. To protest against x specific measure on the grounds that the State will have to use force to implement it is really object to idea of State using Force, by consequence the very idea of the State itself. It's to protest against any general use of force. So that doesn't really hold as an argument against this specific thing which requires some, specific argument.

Obtaining of a DNA sample doesn't necessitate any greater application of force than the enforcement of any other given State enactment - as has been pointed out, a used coffee cup would suffice.
“People understand me so poorly that they don't even understand my complaint about them not understanding me.”
~ Soren Kierkegaard

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Deep_Thought
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Deep_Thought » Thu Jun 30, 2011 7:14 am UTC

Aaeriele wrote:Okay, I'm going to repeat this one more time, because it seems to have been missed the first 3-4 times:

one of the main reasons I'm for a universal DNA database is because it would help reduce the perception that DNA evidence is "perfect".

I agree there is a possibility that may be the case. But this is part of the reason I posted the link about fingerprints above - most police forces around the world use fingerprints as their primary method of identification, and it's never actually been subject to any proper scientific scrutiny. Is that ever told to juries? There is also the possibility that juries will be just as woefully misinformed as they are now and DNA will maintain weight as significant evidence. We just don't know. That's the joy of "hypothetical".

Aaeriele wrote:When I'm discussing the theoretical benefits of a universal DNA database, yes, I'm going to dismiss certain practical issues. I find it highly unlikely that any universal DNA database would become a reality anytime soon, thus I'm not really bothering to consider the current practical limitations in what is very much a hypothetical area of the topic.

And this is why the thread is going round in circles. One side is arguing hypothetical benefits, and the other practical disadvantages. This may be a result of location. Here in the UK the idea of a universal DNA database is already being advocated by the police and a few public figures. Our last government wanted to introduce universal biometric ID cards which would have been incredibly easy to add DNA to. The main reason the new government scrapped the idea was cost. There was a point a couple of years ago where a DNA database didn't seem that far away, and that memory still lingers.


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