Implications of collecting DNA samples

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Enuja » Fri Jun 24, 2011 5:02 pm UTC

Yeah! This thread got split so now I can post on this subject!

I don't have a problem with a universal DNA database, but the legal system would have to change significantly. Not only would people have to pay better attention to statistics and the size of the database, we'd also have to reduce punishments for crimes. Because a universal DNA database would lead to convicting a larger percentage of criminals, the effect of increased incarceration and other penalties would drag the economy and society down with it if not changed. You can certainly argue that this would be a good thing, but it highlights how completely unfair having only some people in a database is.

I am absolutely against keeping the DNA and other data from past suspects, because it further tips the justice system to treat people differently. The justice system as whole won't change the way it needs to change in the presence of a large database, because the people in the database will be the disadvantaged ones, who don't have equal power to change laws. And even if the laws were changed, there just isn't any way to get past the inherent inequality of having some people findable by fingerprints and a DNA database, and other people protected from this type of evidence.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Fri Jun 24, 2011 5:11 pm UTC

Deep_Thought wrote:I admit that is an extreme hypothetical, but it's one I don't want to edge closer to. If the police have other evidence that implicates me in a crime they are welcome to ask me for a DNA sample in order to eliminate me from their enquiries. I do not want DNA evidence to be the start of their enquiries.

Why should DNA be less of a start for inquiries than any other kind of evidence?
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Deep_Thought » Fri Jun 24, 2011 5:31 pm UTC

Sorry, bad wording on that sentence. I don't want DNA to be the sole reason for hauling me in for questioning, as described in the paragraph above that quote. I like my police to actually do some work before that point ;)

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Arrian » Fri Jun 24, 2011 5:35 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:It stands to reason that if police started getting 5+ positive matches for every sample they ran, they'd stop assuming that any single one of those people was the definitive suspect. Part of the reason why a positive match is seen as such good evidence right now is because the false positive rate is (artificially, due to size of comparison base) lower.


Lot more work for police. They have to investigate and rule out more people: If you have a national database, and Joe Schmoe from Albuquerque turns up in a DNA search for a crime committed in East Lansing, the East Lansing cops are going to have find, then talk to Joe to find out what he was doing the night of such and such. Then they'll have to find corroborating witnesses to confirm his story. If they don't, that's pretty much a get out of jail free card for whomever they do arrest.

The problem being, the police have limited resources. Casting the widest possible net isn't necessarily, or likely, the most efficient use of those resources. Remember that you have a fixed number of detectives, so the people tracking down Joe Schmoe in New Mexico will be doing that instead of following leads in Michigan. At best, you're going to increase the length of time to solve crimes, more likely you are going to solve fewer crimes.

Amazingly enough, even without a national DNA database, police are still able to solve crimes committed by out of state perpetrators today.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby elasto » Fri Jun 24, 2011 5:43 pm UTC

Part of the problem is that there has been no public debate on this; there has been no vote in parliament; there has been nothing. The authorities simply decided to keep every person who ever crossed their threshold's DNA indefinitely.

I mean, if parliament passed a law to say everyone's DNA will be collected at birth, and these are the IT and legal safeguards that will be put in place to prevent abuses that's one thing. There are decent arguments that can be made on both sides. But for it to happen virtually in secret just got up peoples' noses. (Plus the fact the European Courts then went and ruled it illegal, of course)

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Deep_Thought » Fri Jun 24, 2011 5:47 pm UTC

Arrian wrote:The problem being, the police have limited resources. Casting the widest possible net isn't necessarily, or likely, the most efficient use of those resources. Remember that you have a fixed number of detectives, so the people tracking down Joe Schmoe in New Mexico will be doing that instead of following leads in Michigan. At best, you're going to increase the length of time to solve crimes, more likely you are going to solve fewer crimes.

Amazingly enough, even without a national DNA database, police are still able to solve crimes committed by out of state perpetrators today.

Exactly. See here for a recent example of how pursuing the DNA evidence can actively hinder an investigation (admittedly this was a fairly monumental cock-up).

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:01 pm UTC

Arrian wrote:Lot more work for police. They have to investigate and rule out more people: If you have a national database, and Joe Schmoe from Albuquerque turns up in a DNA search for a crime committed in East Lansing, the East Lansing cops are going to have find, then talk to Joe to find out what he was doing the night of such and such. Then they'll have to find corroborating witnesses to confirm his story. If they don't, that's pretty much a get out of jail free card for whomever they do arrest.

The problem being, the police have limited resources. Casting the widest possible net isn't necessarily, or likely, the most efficient use of those resources. Remember that you have a fixed number of detectives, so the people tracking down Joe Schmoe in New Mexico will be doing that instead of following leads in Michigan. At best, you're going to increase the length of time to solve crimes, more likely you are going to solve fewer crimes.

Amazingly enough, even without a national DNA database, police are still able to solve crimes committed by out of state perpetrators today.


This is a silly argument. It's essentially the equivalent of saying "a carpenter should only have a hammer, not a full toolbox, because if they had a full toolbox, they'd have to use every tool in it on every job, and that'd be inefficient!"

The police are not required to use every single tool they have available on every single case, nor are they required to track down every single possible DNA match. It's silly to say that we should inherently limit the potential matches simply because it would open a wider range of possibilities.

Deep_Thought wrote:Exactly. See here for a recent example of how pursuing the DNA evidence can actively hinder an investigation (admittedly this was a fairly monumental cock-up).


Er, I don't really see how that applies - in fact, having a national DNA database probably would have helped in that case, given that the samples would have immediately matched against the worker in the factory and someone would most likely have realized "wait a minute, this person works at the factory that makes our sampling devices".
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Plasma Man » Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:26 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:The police are not required to use every single tool they have available on every single case, nor are they required to track down every single possible DNA match. It's silly to say that we should inherently limit the potential matches simply because it would open a wider range of possibilities.
I'm sorry, but I'm not following you here. On the previous page, you were in favour of putting everyone's DNA on a database, but now you don't want them all to be searched, so what's the point?
My point earlier, that Deep_Thought chimed in on, is that as the police are going to have to use non-DNA based techniques anyway, why not make that the first option? If they arrest anyone, they can take a DNA sample and compare that against the DNA at the scene. If it matches, fine, they can use that in the case. If it doesn't match, they let the person go and destroy the sample that they have no further use for.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:33 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:
Aaeriele wrote:The police are not required to use every single tool they have available on every single case, nor are they required to track down every single possible DNA match. It's silly to say that we should inherently limit the potential matches simply because it would open a wider range of possibilities.
I'm sorry, but I'm not following you here. On the previous page, you were in favour of putting everyone's DNA on a database, but now you don't want them all to be searched, so what's the point?

"On the previous page, you were in favor of ice cream stores stocking many flavors of ice cream, but now you don't want to eat them all on the same visit, so what's the point?"

Just because an option isn't used all the time doesn't mean that it's not beneficial to have options available.

Plasma Man wrote:My point earlier, that Deep_Thought chimed in on, is that as the police are going to have to use non-DNA based techniques anyway, why not make that the first option? If they arrest anyone, they can take a DNA sample and compare that against the DNA at the scene. If it matches, fine, they can use that in the case. If it doesn't match, they let the person go and destroy the sample that they have no further use for.

It's not a matter of "first option" or "second option" or whatnot - it's a matter of options at all. If police are stuck on a case and all they have to go on is a DNA sample, which is preferable: dropping the case entirely, or having a few different hits in a universal database that they can follow up on?

What you seem to be saying is that DNA evidence should only be used for confirming suspicion, but I don't see why that should be the case. How is it any less legitimate to start being suspicious of someone because a match for their DNA was found at a scene, as opposed to say, being suspicious of someone because they happened to be in the building where a crime took place, or happened to leave a bootprint in an alley where a crime was committed?
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Plasma Man » Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:44 pm UTC

If all they have to go on is a DNA sample, they haven't got a case. So yes, it is better to drop it than to round up the false positive results produced by the DNA database.

My concern with your idea of having a database of everyone, but only choosing to search some of them, is that the ones that are chosen to be searched are likely to be selected on the basis of the predujices of the police person involved. This only heightens the danger of someone who's profile comes up based on a false positive having to deal with the fact that:
Zamfir wrote:police forces aren't prefect paragons of objectivity. Once they have a suspect they have the tendency to build a case against them. There are enough examples how this process can lead to false convictions, including false confessions if the suspect is an easily influenced person. And being a suspect of a serious crime is very damaging in itself, even if the final verdict is that the evidence was inconclusive. People will lose their job if they have been suspected of serious crimes on DNA database grounds, even if there is no other hard proof.
Quoting Zamfir, because they've put it better than I can.

Edit, as I realised I hadn't addressed some of your questions:

I'm not saying that DNA should only be used for confirming suspicion, I'm saying that it shouldn't be the only grounds for suspicion. It's not legitimate to have a database of everyone's DNA for the purposes of checking it whenever a crime is committed, because that is presuming that everyone will engage in criminal activity - it's a presumption of potential guilt, not a presumption of innocence. DNA is also less time-sensitive than other techniques. Using your example of someone being in the building where a crime was committed, it's not enough to show that they were there, it's necessary to show that they were there during the time frame in which the crime was committed. DNA can't tell you that, all it can tell you is that a person has been there, at some indeterminate point.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Enuja » Fri Jun 24, 2011 6:48 pm UTC

Aaeriele (and anyone else who thinks or has argued that keeping samples from past suspects, or people who gave evidence to rule themselves out, is OK), have the arguments about the inadvisability of having two different groups of people with different chances of being caught (people in the database and people not in the database) convinced you at all? Is this an important issue for society and the police to address? Does anyone think that it's a good idea to increase the inequality of the justice system, or think that having some people in databases and some people not in databases doesn't create an inequality in the justice system?

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:00 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:If all they have to go on is a DNA sample, they haven't got a case.


But we're not talking about going directly to prosecution from a DNA sample, here - we're talking about using it as a lead to further an investigation - in other words, the process of investigating a case. You seem to be fundamentally misunderstanding this.

Plasma Man wrote:My concern with your idea of having a database of everyone, but only choosing to search some of them, is that the ones that are chosen to be searched are likely to be selected on the basis of the predujices of the police person involved.

How is this different from any other set of evidence?

Right now DNA evidence is seen as more conclusive than it actually is. It seems extremely likely that if there were a universal database of DNA, it would be seen as far less conclusive, just from the fact that there would be multiple matches for any given sample. As it stands right now, such databases are selective enough that a match is somewhat unusual and thus gets afforded the weight of something that doesn't happen all the time. Therefore, it would be a good thing to have a universal database, because it would make the actual accuracy of DNA data more apparent.


Enuja wrote:Aaeriele (and anyone else who thinks or has argued that keeping samples from past suspects, or people who gave evidence to rule themselves out, is OK),

Er, you seem to misunderstand my position - I've been arguing this entire time for a database of everyone's DNA, not a database of only prior suspects. My entire point is that it would be best to have everyone in the system. Please read back through my previous posts if you missed that.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Azrael » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:09 pm UTC

Enuja wrote:Aaeriele (and anyone else who thinks or has argued that keeping samples from past suspects, or people who gave evidence to rule themselves out, is OK), have the arguments about the inadvisability of having two different groups of people with different chances of being caught (people in the database and people not in the database) convinced you at all? Is this an important issue for society and the police to address? Does anyone think that it's a good idea to increase the inequality of the justice system, or think that having some people in databases and some people not in databases doesn't create an inequality in the justice system?

Is this concern not already well rested considering the nature of finger print collection? Why is DNA 'worse' or 'different' or even 'additive'?

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Plasma Man » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:13 pm UTC

It's a lot harder to plant a fingerprint than to plant some DNA. As you've brought it up, then yes, I do happen to think the the fingerprints of those who haven't been convicted of anything should be removed from the database.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Azrael » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:18 pm UTC

So as to make the justice system only proportionally more unfair to those who've been convicted by it? I'm not sure I understand what you'd be "fixing" that way.

(And that's a very good point regarding planting DNA vs prints)

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Enuja » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:32 pm UTC

Azreal what do you mean "well rested"? The unequal coverage of people in fingerprint databases is one of the current factors that help make justice systems so unequal. Adding other databases that do the same thing would make the problem worse, not better. At a crimescene, you may find fingerprints or DNA. Adding a non-representative databases of DNA (skewed in the same matter, no less) to the non-representative database of fingerprints will make the justice system less equal.

Aaeriele, I know you've answered that we should just put everybody in the database, but that's not what actual governments are actually suggesting. I was trying to ask you to clarify your opinion on adding more non-representational databases to the justice system. I know you think we should just put everybody in, but I want to know what you think about keeping the data from past suspects or people giving data to rule themselves out. The choices are no database or a non-representational database.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Plasma Man » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:37 pm UTC

I doubt that there is a totally fair system. It seems that there are four options:
1) Hold data on no-one
2) Hold data on those who've been arrested
3) Hold data only on those who've been convicted
4) Hold data on everyone

Option 1 runs into problems because of the need to hold onto evidence in case of retrials or appeals. Option 2 creates problems by creating two different classes of innocence, one that is automatically treated as a potential suspect in all future crimes and one that isn't. Option 3, as Azrael points out, does result in increased unfairness being focused on those who've already been convicted. Option 4 presumes potential guilt on the part of everyone, as the purpose of the database is for crime detection, rather than presuming innocence.
If I have to pick one, I'll pick option 3, because at least those in that group have had a formal trial. No, it's not ideal, but it's the least bad option in my judgement.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Kag » Fri Jun 24, 2011 7:42 pm UTC

gmalivuk wrote:
Kag wrote:evil government would have to turn a full genetic sequence, stored in plaintext on some SQL server somewhere or something, into actual biological material. Is that even possible?
Yes. For quite some time, iirc.


Oh, that's pretty cool, then.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:16 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:Option 4 presumes potential guilt on the part of everyone, as the purpose of the database is for crime detection, rather than presuming innocence.


Er, I don't see how it presumes potential guilt any more than the assumption that a murderer will be human.

Enuja wrote:Aaeriele, I know you've answered that we should just put everybody in the database, but that's not what actual governments are actually suggesting. I was trying to ask you to clarify your opinion on adding more non-representational databases to the justice system. I know you think we should just put everybody in, but I want to know what you think about keeping the data from past suspects or people giving data to rule themselves out. The choices are no database or a non-representational database.

Why did you not just ask that, then?

I don't think that the choices are necessarily limited to only what has already occurred in the past.

If you want to artificially limit the choices to only those two options, then I would be opposed to keeping DNA from previous suspects if they were not convicted. My initial comment regarding this entire matter was that I don't see a privacy issue with storing DNA evidence; I can however see a discrimination issue if there is discrimination in whose DNA is stored. Hence my pointing out that it would nix any discrimination issue to just store everyone's DNA.

But again, I don't think those are the only two options, and I think it's disingenuous to limit ourselves to only either the status quo or nothing, especially since "nothing" still biases the justice system in favor of previously convicted criminals.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby LaserGuy » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:18 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
Plasma Man wrote:If all they have to go on is a DNA sample, they haven't got a case.


But we're not talking about going directly to prosecution from a DNA sample, here - we're talking about using it as a lead to further an investigation - in other words, the process of investigating a case. You seem to be fundamentally misunderstanding this.


I still don't see how this helps. Let's say the only evidence you have is some DNA. Your database hits 2000 people, from all across the country, plus, let's say 100 more who are outside the country. How do you choose which people to investigate, other than by checking out everyone on the list? How is it reasonable to say, "Well, there is a 99.5% chance that you are a false positive in our system, but we're still going to make the next week of your life miserable and maybe make you lose your job and/or damage your reputation just to make sure?"

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:21 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:I still don't see how this helps. Let's say the only evidence you have is some DNA. Your database hits 2000 people, from all across the country, plus, let's say 100 more who are outside the country. How do you choose which people to investigate, other than by checking out everyone on the list? How is it reasonable to say, "Well, there is a 99.5% chance that you are a false positive in our system, but we're still going to make the next week of your life miserable and maybe make you lose your job and/or damage your reputation just to make sure?"


Because in some cases, it will hit 2000 people all across the country. In other cases, it will hit 2000 people, and 20 of those will happen to be from the same city the crime was committed in, and 3 of them will have happened to have known the victim, and 1 of them will have happened to work across the street from the alley that the crime happened in.

Evidence is about corroboration of many different facts, not about finding the "one single infallible bit of proof".

I really wish people would stop trying to paint it as something else. DNA evidence is just one piece of a larger puzzle, and every piece is important. If anything, it's a misunderstanding of this simple concept that has lead to so much confusion in the first place.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Plasma Man » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:37 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
Plasma Man wrote:Option 4 presumes potential guilt on the part of everyone, as the purpose of the database is for crime detection, rather than presuming innocence.
Er, I don't see how it presumes potential guilt any more than the assumption that a murderer will be human.
OK, let's go through this. This is information that will be held for the sole purpose of linking people to crimes. It serves absolutely no other purpose. Everyone is forced to be on this system. When a crime is committed and DNA evidence is collected, this is checked against the database, which, remember holds everyone's data. Everyone in the country is treated as a potential suspect by this system. And you can't see how that doesn't impact on the presumption of innocence?
By following your line of reasoning, everyone should be forced to have a GPS tracker implanted in them and the data from that recorded permanently, so their whereabouts can be verified at any time to check if they've been near the scene of a crime.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby LaserGuy » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:38 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
LaserGuy wrote:I still don't see how this helps. Let's say the only evidence you have is some DNA. Your database hits 2000 people, from all across the country, plus, let's say 100 more who are outside the country. How do you choose which people to investigate, other than by checking out everyone on the list? How is it reasonable to say, "Well, there is a 99.5% chance that you are a false positive in our system, but we're still going to make the next week of your life miserable and maybe make you lose your job and/or damage your reputation just to make sure?"


Because in some cases, it will hit 2000 people all across the country. In other cases, it will hit 2000 people, and 20 of those will happen to be from the same city the crime was committed in, and 3 of them will have happened to have known the victim, and 1 of them will have happened to work across the street from the alley that the crime happened in.

Evidence is about corroboration of many different facts, not about finding the "one single infallible bit of proof".

I really wish people would stop trying to paint it as something else. DNA evidence is just one piece of a larger puzzle, and every piece is important. If anything, it's a misunderstanding of this simple concept that has lead to so much confusion in the first place.


I never said it was. I said that if DNA is the only evidence you have, the database probably isn't going to help at all unless you are willing to sift through all of the hits, which will involve a significant amount of harm to a great many people. Your argument implicitly assumes this--you're just ignoring it. How do you know that one of them happens to work across the street from the crimescene,or where they live? Does the database also contain all of someone's personal information as well as their DNA?

For that matter, how strong do you think this evidence should be treated? If I turn up as a hit in the database, can the police get a warrant to search my home? Interview my friends, co-workers, and family? Wiretap my phones? Take me to the police station for an intensive 12+ hour interrogation? Keep me in jail overnight? Restrict my movements?

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Kag » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:41 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:which will involve a significant amount of harm to a great many people


Uh, how?
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Azrael » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:45 pm UTC

Enuja wrote:Azreal what do you mean "well rested"? The unequal coverage of people in fingerprint databases is one of the current factors that help make justice systems so unequal. Adding other databases that do the same thing would make the problem worse, not better. At a crimescene, you may find fingerprints or DNA. Adding a non-representative databases of DNA (skewed in the same matter, no less) to the non-representative database of fingerprints will make the justice system less equal.

Finger printing is pretty much entirely non-controversial, that's what I meant -- the issue has been largely put to rest.

Add to that "factors that help make the justice system so unequal" is so chock full of qualifiers as to be nearly meaningless. Why is it unequal? How is it unequal? I'm not talking gut instinct, but what's an actual rationale behind that thought? And is there any actual data suggesting that re-arrest rates based on data base hits is statistically higher than either re-arrest rates not based on data base hits (i.e. comparison to other methods), or conviction rates (meaning that the individual was guilty [beyond the obvious other caveats])? It's not unequal to be arrested for a crime you committed, after all.

Plus roughly 30% of the data in the US system does not come from criminal offenders (i.e. all military personnel, many other government employees [link]), so how does that affect this 'inequality'? And how many of the other prints are from minor crime, non-repeat offenders? In other words, what portion of the 90+ million records (in the US) are from people that don't fall into this inequity discussion what so ever?

So only once that inequality is settled can you ask if additional data collection regarding those fingerprinted individuals (say ... height, weight, gender, physical markings or characteristics? How about criminal history? Oh ... wait) actually makes the inequality worse or just the same. And even if it is "worse", can it be quantified -- would it be statistically noticeable?

What I'm getting at here is that I think you're shooting from the hip on this one.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:46 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:Everyone in the country is treated as a potential suspect by this system.

You fail to demonstrate how everyone is not already treated as a suspect by the assumption that a murderer is human. Being suspect is not a binary thing; there are different degrees of being suspect.

Plasma Man wrote:By following your line of reasoning, everyone should be forced to have a GPS tracker implanted in them and the data from that recorded permanently, so their whereabouts can be verified at any time to check if they've been near the scene of a crime.

No, because there are far more potential abuses for GPS tracking information than there are for DNA. With DNA marker information, you have to have something to corroborate with for it to be of any use; it's useless on its own. With GPS trackers, on the other hand, you can just look at the output and instantly have something to use against someone, or just become a voyeur into their life. Vastly different implications for privacy.

=====================

LaserGuy wrote:I never said it was. I said that if DNA is the only evidence you have, the database probably isn't going to help at all unless you are willing to sift through all of the hits, which will involve a significant amount of harm to a great many people. Your argument implicitly assumes this--you're just ignoring it. How do you know that one of them happens to work across the street from the crimescene,or where they live? Does the database also contain all of someone's personal information as well as their DNA?

Looking up someone's address involves a significant amount of harm to that person? I think you're exaggerating a bit, and this thought seems to be backed up by your next bit:

LaserGuy wrote:For that matter, how strong do you think this evidence should be treated? If I turn up as a hit in the database, can the police get a warrant to search my home? Interview my friends, co-workers, and family? Wiretap my phones? Take me to the police station for an intensive 12+ hour interrogation? Keep me in jail overnight? Restrict my movements?

No? Why would you assume so? A judge is unlikely to issue a warrant for a search of 2000 different homes, for wiretapping 2000 different phones. They wouldn't do this for any other kind of broad evidence, why would they do it for DNA evidence? The justice system has the concept of probable cause for a reason.

If the police sift through the 2000 hits and find the one who happens to work across the street from where the crime was committed, then it is quite possible that a warrant might be issued or someone might be questioned - because at that point, there is more of a corroboration.



Can we stop making up hyperbolic scenarios?
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby LaserGuy » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:52 pm UTC

Kag wrote:
LaserGuy wrote:which will involve a significant amount of harm to a great many people


Uh, how?


You've never been the subject of a police investigation, I take it. It is a very unpleasant experience, particularly when you're innocent.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:54 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:You've never been the subject of a police investigation, I take it. It is a very unpleasant experience, particularly when you're innocent.


"The" subject. Yet the entire point here is that expanding DNA evidence would most likely lead to multiple matches, as opposed to a single match.

There's also the fact that not all investigations are the same. Are you suggesting that we should stop adding anything which could possibly expand the police's information-gathering ability, because it might have the side effect of adding new potentially innocent suspects to a case?


What is it about DNA evidence that brings out paranoia? It doesn't work both ways - either (a) DNA evidence has a low false positive rate, and thus will be given a high amount of importance in investigations, or (b) DNA evidence has a high false positive rate, and thus will be given a lower amount of importance in investigations. This isn't CSI.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Azrael » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:56 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:
Kag wrote:
LaserGuy wrote:which will involve a significant amount of harm to a great many people

Uh, how?

You've never been the subject of a police investigation, I take it. It is a very unpleasant experience, particularly when you're innocent.

Careful with that one. Do you really want to state that being involved in a criminal investigation is harm? Sure, it can be. But outright? The justice system is so bad that any involvement is harmful?

If so, how to we weigh that harm against the harm committed in the criminal act? Are some things not worth investigating because the aggregate harm to the parties involved is too high? What if it's really hard to solve, or a huge case and the police have to question (harm) all sorts of people?

There are some pretty hefty implications there. Including the one that somehow the police are supposed to know who's innocent before they investigate. Although I'm pretty sure the whole thing was a casual statement and so this is pretty much a moot point.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Kag » Fri Jun 24, 2011 8:58 pm UTC

LaserGuy wrote:You've never been the subject of a police investigation, I take it. It is a very unpleasant experience, particularly when you're innocent.


I feel like that actually doesn't answer my question. What, specifically, are the police going to do with the names and addresses of 2000 people, most of whom could not plausibly have committed the crime in question? I don't think it's reasonable to even call them suspects at that point.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Arrian » Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:03 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:This is a silly argument. It's essentially the equivalent of saying "a carpenter should only have a hammer, not a full toolbox, because if they had a full toolbox, they'd have to use every tool in it on every job, and that'd be inefficient!"


A carpenter doesn't have to explain to a jury of english teachers why he had a coping saw but didn't use it when he was putting up trim in a house.

Remember, the criminal justice system is adversarial with the reasonable doubt requirement to convict. Police will have to investigate every lead that their tools turn up, no matter how spurious, because otherwise the defense will use that as a tool to introduce doubt.

Azrael: As far as partial fingerprint databases go, they are far more prevalent: Parents take their children to police stations to be fingerprinted in hopes that if they're kidnapped they'll be easier to identify, everyone who was in the military has been fingerprinted, everyone in certain industries get fingerprinted. There are so many ways to get your fingerprints on file that it's a non issue to find out that they are so. As far as I know, about the only way to get your DNA on record is to commit (or be investigated in) a crime or be in the military (in the US at least.) That means a DNA database like this carries a stigma that fingerprint databases don't.

Also note that this isn't for just any criminal activity, it's for a highly stigmatized criminal activity. Adding people to the "rapist database" even though a thorough investigation deemed them innocent invites some pretty serious potential stigma. It might be less worrisome if they collected and held DNA for everyone who gets arrested the way they do with fingerprints, but to limit it to people accused of sexual assault seems seriously questionable.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby LaserGuy » Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:11 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
LaserGuy wrote:You've never been the subject of a police investigation, I take it. It is a very unpleasant experience, particularly when you're innocent.


"The" subject. Yet the entire point here is that expanding DNA evidence would most likely lead to multiple matches, as opposed to a single match.

There's also the fact that not all investigations are the same. Are you suggesting that we should stop adding anything which could possibly expand the police's information-gathering ability, because it might have the side effect of adding new potentially innocent suspects to a case?


If those things constitute an unreasonable breach of privacy or people's rights, then absolutely yes we should restrict police access to these things. As others have mentioned, you could just as easily put GPS trackers or biometric chips in everyone, and that would provide far more accurate/useful information than a DNA database likely would. That certainly doesn't mean that we should ever do such a thing. We explicitly limit the powers of police (by, eg. requiring warrants, having rules of evidence, etc.) in order to ensure fairness in the system and prevent abuse, even though eliminating those rules and restrictions would greatly enhance the police's ability to prosecute criminals.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby A_pathetic_lizardmnan » Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:21 pm UTC

I am not an expert in genetics or law, but it seems like fairly common sense that everyone does have a finite chance of having committed a crime. Most of these chances are not worth pursuing, because there is a lack of adequate evidence. DNA evidence helps to narrow down who might have committed a particular crime. A genetic marker or combination of markers that comes up in 1 in a million people will provide a theoretical maximum of 60 decibels of evidence. If we assume that 1% of people are on this database, we take 20 decibels off due to the 1 in 100 chance that the perpetrator is actually in the database. At this point, we are left with 40 decibels of evidence. With 40 db of evidence, you go from 300M suspects with a 0.000000333% chance (each) of being the suspect to 297M suspects with a 0.000000330% chance of being the suspect and 3 with a .33% chance of being the perpetrator each.
If, on the other hand, everyone is on this system, you can squeeze 60 db out of your 1 in a million marker. This allows you to go from 300,000,000 suspects with a 0.000000333% chance of being the perpetrator to 2,999,700 suspects with effectively zero chance and 300 suspects with a 0.33% chance of being the perpetrator. Note that your 3 suspects did not actually become any more or less suspicious from the first situation to the second: it doesn't matter to the people on the system how many people are on it when evaluating the evidence. DNA evidence of the 60 decibel level will be far more useful in demonstrating innocence than guilt: a 0.33% chance of being the perpetrator is FAR from "beyond a reasonable doubt."
In practice, humans are fallible, so attributing more than about 30 db (a 99.9% chance of being correct) to any single argument is probably not a good idea. You need about 105 db of evidence to single out 1 person in 300M with 99% confidence, which means you should have at least 4 distinct, uncorrelated types of evidence that indicate that person with at least 30 db after accounting for human error. Having a plausible motive probably gives at least 20 db (less than 1% of crimes have no obvious motive). Being in the place where the crime occurred probably gives another 20 (at least 99% of criminals appear to have been where the crime was committed when it happened). Living near the crime scene probably gives yet another 10 (less than 10% of crimes are committed far from where the perpetrator lives). Etc.
If all of these forms of evidence add up to 105 db, it's quite likely that the suspect actually did commit the crime. DNA evidence alone will not approach that, but it can be a significant (20-30%) portion of that. Until people stop thinking of it in the 100 db range by itself, however, it's probably irresponsible to use DNA evidence in court cases. Once that misconception is cleared up, it could be productive, partly in clearing accusations (if the presence of DNA evidence from testing is +30db, the absence of positive test results when there was a test is -30db of guilt, a very valuable thing to innocent suspects).

In short, it is far more likely that responsibly used DNA evidence will mean that you are not implicated in a crime that you might otherwise have been suspected of than that it will be used against you. Belonging to a DNA evidence database might in fact be in your personal interest if you wish not to be wrongly accused of a crime.

Also, to those asking about GPS devices, what do you think your cell phone is?

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby icanus » Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:25 pm UTC

A_pathetic_lizardmnan wrote:Also, to those asking about GPS devices, what do you think your cell phone is?

Optional.

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Deep_Thought » Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:42 pm UTC

A_pathetic_lizardmnan wrote:In short, it is far more likely that responsibly used DNA evidence will mean that you are not implicated in a crime that you might otherwise have been suspected of than that it will be used against you. Belonging to a DNA evidence database might in fact be in your personal interest if you wish not to be wrongly accused of a crime.

The starting numbers in your analysis appear to be assumptions. Am I correct in this? If so, how did you arrive at those assumptions? Because the outcome is dependent on them. Also, there is also the problem that now DNA tests have become so sensitive that you can find multiple person's DNA at a typical crime scene. If you are testing a specific blood stain or other bodily fluid your analysis holds. But what happens when the police sweep a crime scene for every last hair and drop of sweat and find several different sets of DNA at a crime scene?

Also, technical question - what exactly do you mean by "dBs of evidence"?

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby A_pathetic_lizardmnan » Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:55 pm UTC

10 db of evidence is a demonstration that there is a 1 in 10 chance that you would find that result by pure chance. 20 db is a 1 in 100 chance.

If you found, say, 10 peoples' DNA at the crime scene, you would come out with a change of -10db to your evidence, and should probably apply that after the "human error" part. At that point, DNA evidence only gives you +20 db of evidence, and you definitely will need more to prove your point.

I did use a bit of educated guesswork about the levels of evidence. More accurately, I assumed a 1 in a million frequency of that particular marker and a 1 in a thousand frequency of a false positive in human error. Since the 1 in a thousand incidence of human error far outweighs the chance of coincidence in actual DNA evidence, I used the most probable point of error. 30 db should actually have been 29.999999566 db to account for the possibility of error in the test rather than the person, but with rough estimates that is not worth factoring in.

Basically what I'm saying is that DNA evidence could be useful if we keep human error in mind. If you'd like I can do a detailed analysis using factual statistics, I'd be willing to bet $10 against your $1 that I was within 10 db on all of my numbers (that is to say, within an order of magnitude, which is really not that impressive, but is sufficient).

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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Fri Jun 24, 2011 9:55 pm UTC

Arrian wrote:Remember, the criminal justice system is adversarial with the reasonable doubt requirement to convict. Police will have to investigate every lead that their tools turn up, no matter how spurious, because otherwise the defense will use that as a tool to introduce doubt.

Er, no. If 2000 hits across the country turn up in an DNA check, and 1 of them works directly across the street from where the crime was committed, and upon investigation the police find out from the victim's acquaintances that the one that works directly across the street had been seen heckling the victim the day before the crime, et cetera, the defense can bring up the 1999 other matches all they want, but it's not likely to change the outcome of the case.

If anything, deliberately avoiding having more info due to the selectivity of existing DNA databases would be used by the defense to introduce far more doubt than not following up on some entries in a universal database.

===================================

LaserGuy wrote:If those things constitute an unreasonable breach of privacy or people's rights, then absolutely yes we should restrict police access to these things.

Well, as I mentioned before, I don't see having a database of DNA markers as a breach of privacy.

LaserGuy wrote:As others have mentioned, you could just as easily put GPS trackers or biometric chips in everyone, and that would provide far more accurate/useful information than a DNA database likely would. That certainly doesn't mean that we should ever do such a thing.

And as I also mentioned before, there is a very big difference between active tracking devices like GPS, and passive corroboration devices like DNA samples.

LaserGuy wrote:We explicitly limit the powers of police (by, eg. requiring warrants, having rules of evidence, etc.) in order to ensure fairness in the system and prevent abuse, even though eliminating those rules and restrictions would greatly enhance the police's ability to prosecute criminals.

And as I further mentioned before, would it not be fairer to have everyone's DNA available as opposed to only a select subset of previously convicted individuals?
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Plasma Man » Fri Jun 24, 2011 10:00 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
Plasma Man wrote:Everyone in the country is treated as a potential suspect by this system.

You fail to demonstrate how everyone is not already treated as a suspect by the assumption that a murderer is human. Being suspect is not a binary thing; there are different degrees of being suspect.
The assumption that a murderer is human is justified (in fact, it is a tautology, as only humans are considered legally capable of murder. An animal that kills someone is not a murderer). The assumption that a random person on the other side of the country might be that murderer is not justified, not without some evidence to point in their direction. Yet that person will still have their DNA checked on the database and be treated as a suspect, until it can be shown that they're not. This is the presumption of potential guilt I was on about earlier.
As you're advocating having everyone on the database, quadriplegics will be checked to see if they could have been the ones that beat someone to death with a sledgehammer. Patients in comas will be checked to see if they've committed assaults. The database has the ability to flag them up as a potential match, and they will be treated as suspects and subject to further investigation. These are not hyperbolic scenarios, these are logical consequences of the system you are advocating. This is unfairly treating people as being potential suspects, and it will be extremely upsetting for them to effectively be told "show that you're innocent". Those who are already disadvantaged, or belong to groups that are treated unfairly by the police will be disproportionately affected, as they will have the greatest difficulty in accessing competent advice on what to do.
Honestly, if you can't see the problems with this, then I don't think it's worth continuing the discussion, as I doubt we're going to find any common ground.
Aaeriele wrote:
Plasma Man wrote:By following your line of reasoning, everyone should be forced to have a GPS tracker implanted in them and the data from that recorded permanently, so their whereabouts can be verified at any time to check if they've been near the scene of a crime.

No, because there are far more potential abuses for GPS tracking information than there are for DNA. With DNA marker information, you have to have something to corroborate with for it to be of any use; it's useless on its own. With GPS trackers, on the other hand, you can just look at the output and instantly have something to use against someone, or just become a voyeur into their life. Vastly different implications for privacy.
I disagree with your claim that there are more potential abuses for GPS tracking that for DNA. GPS data may be easier to abuse now, but the situation is rapidly changing. So, how feasible is it for genetic data to be abused? Well, a swab that is intended to go for DNA marker analysis could easily have some of the tissue on it transferred to another swab; this would be very hard to detect. The technology already exists to perform extraction and purification of genetic material, multiplication of DNA sequences and genetic engineering in someone's house, so can it be long before full genetic sequencing can be carried out by educated amateurs? Having sequenced the DNA of someone, they can then analyse it for any of the known inherited or genetically-linked diseases. This information would make excellent blackmail material; the obvious points of attack are threatening to sabotage relationships ("Just think about what your children could end up with."), threatening to release this information to your health insurance provider ("You don't want to lose your coverage, do you?"), and, in possibly the most worrying example, replicating & purifying the DNA of someone they have a grudge against, then threatening to, or carrying out the planting that at crime scenes.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby Aaeriele » Fri Jun 24, 2011 10:11 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:Yet that person will still have their DNA checked on the database and be treated as a suspect, until it can be shown that they're not.

And when police find a car with a certain license plate, they'll run those plates against the entire database of license plates for whichever state it's from. How is this any different? You seem to have a very odd definition of "treated as a suspect" if it only applies to DNA.

You also haven't really demonstrated how this level of "being treated as a suspect" is harmful to anyone.

Plasma Man wrote:As you're advocating having everyone on the database, quadriplegics will be checked to see if they could have been the ones that beat someone to death with a sledgehammer. Patients in comas will be checked to see if they've committed assaults. The database has the ability to flag them up as a potential match, and they will be treated as suspects and subject to further investigation. These are not hyperbolic scenarios, these are logical consequences of the system you are advocating. This is unfairly treating people as being potential suspects, and it will be extremely upsetting for them to effectively be told "show that you're innocent". Those who are already disadvantaged, or belong to groups that are treated unfairly by the police will be disproportionately affected, as they will have the greatest difficulty in accessing competent advice on what to do.

The hyperbolic portion is assuming that the minimal level of suspectness that such a wide search would confer would in any way be harmful to an individual. Do you honestly think the police are going to go to someone who is quadraplegic and vigorously force them to prove that they weren't the person to beat someone to death with a sledgehammer? Do you honestly think the police aren't going to immediately rule out someone who was in a coma at the time of a crime? Do you honestly think those examples aren't hyperbolic? Seriously?

Plasma Man wrote:So, how feasible is it for genetic data to be abused? Well, a swab that is intended to go for DNA marker analysis could easily have some of the tissue on it transferred to another swab; this would be very hard to detect.

Databases are not collections of swabs. Nor are they (at least for what we're discussing) collections of full gene sequencing results. They are small records of specific markers that are used for matching between two candidates.
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Re: Implications of collecting DNA samples

Postby A_pathetic_lizardmnan » Fri Jun 24, 2011 10:24 pm UTC

Plasma Man wrote:
Aaeriele wrote:
Plasma Man wrote:Everyone in the country is treated as a potential suspect by this system.

You fail to demonstrate how everyone is not already treated as a suspect by the assumption that a murderer is human. Being suspect is not a binary thing; there are different degrees of being suspect.
The assumption that a murderer is human is justified (in fact, it is a tautology, as only humans are considered legally capable of murder. An animal that kills someone is not a murderer). The assumption that a random person on the other side of the country might be that murderer is not justified, not without some evidence to point in their direction. Yet that person will still have their DNA checked on the database and be treated as a suspect, until it can be shown that they're not. This is the presumption of potential guilt I was on about earlier.
As you're advocating having everyone on the database, quadriplegics will be checked to see if they could have been the ones that beat someone to death with a sledgehammer. Patients in comas will be checked to see if they've committed assaults. The database has the ability to flag them up as a potential match, and they will be treated as suspects and subject to further investigation. These are not hyperbolic scenarios, these are logical consequences of the system you are advocating. This is unfairly treating people as being potential suspects, and it will be extremely upsetting for them to effectively be told "show that you're innocent". Those who are already disadvantaged, or belong to groups that are treated unfairly by the police will be disproportionately affected, as they will have the greatest difficulty in accessing competent advice on what to do.
Honestly, if you can't see the problems with this, then I don't think it's worth continuing the discussion, as I doubt we're going to find any common ground.

If you can't see the problems in your own theories, I would honestly be surprised.

A 0.000000033% suspicion level (-85db) (the average level for an American) is the level of assumption that any person in the country is the perpetrator. At its optimum level, DNA evidence on a 1 in a million marker alone could elevate this to a 0.33% (-25db) chance, but in practice will probably elevate suspicion to the 0.00033% (-55db) level. This alone is not going to make someone a worthwhile subject of examination. A 0db level of suspicion corresponds to a 50% chance that the suspect is the perpetrator.
If there is a quadriplegic, you can estimate the probability that they committed the hammer murder by looking at the number of hammer murders committed by quadriplegics over the total (I would put that number somewhere between 0 and 1 in a billion). Let's call that a 1 in a billion chance to be charitable: that's -90db of evidence. So if they match your test, that's +30db. If they're a quadriplegic, that's -90db. Take your -85db starting, and you end up with your matching quadriplegic having a -145db level of evidence, or still much lower than the rest of the population's -85db. Nobody would question the quadriplegic except to the extent that they could determine that the person could not have committed the crime.

DNA testing does not mean that people have to abandon common sense. Nobody is seriously suggesting DNA evidence as replacing other evidence, but rather supplementing it. The main result of DNA evidence (or any evidence, for that matter) is to eliminate false positives from the pool of potential suspects, that is, everyone. Most of the work is done in figuring out who couldn't have committed the crime, not who could.


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