dna database inequality

In the process of admitting that the current system of keeping innocent people’s DNA permanently on record in police databases is unfair, Lord Justice Sedley has made the astonishing suggestion that, to remedy the inequality, everyone should give a DNA sample to be kept on record. (Hilariously, that even includes visitors to the UK, never mind the existing entire population, but that’s just by the by.)

As Laura Smith points out, “innocent members of ethnic minority communities are almost three times more likely than innocent white people to have details of their DNA on the database.”

And you can read this article by James Randerson only for the purposes of observing all its flaws. The comments are better than the article itself, and it’s not often that I say that about online discussions.

Even if you genuinely did have nothing to hide, there’s more than enough to fear from the alarmingly large number of ways that databases like this can go wrong. You’ll have no doubt read the reports of the 72 year old man who was arrested on suspicion of a crime he didn’t commit, but whose details are being retained by the police even though he is known to be innocent. That could happen to anyone (although obviously it’s more likely to happen to people from ethnic minorities; read more here); it could also happen that someone could give your name instead of their own when the data is collected; and of course there’s the persistent problem that we simply have no guarantee that the government or the police can be trusted with our personal data. As Home Office minister Tony McNulty has conveniently pointed out for us (I’ve no idea why he thought this was a reassuring thing to say), we really have no reason now to trust the agencies which are responsible for law and order, never mind once we’ve given them the information and tools which only need to be wielded by the wrong people to become means of real oppression: the BBC reports that “he said any imbalance in the number of black and white youths whose DNA was stored reflected disproportionality in the Criminal Justice System rather than an inherent problem with the database.” Precisely.

And all of that, without even mentioning the fact that even if you do have the DNA of real criminals, that’s no guarantee that they’ll be convicted or prevented from committing the same crime again, as the following comment on Randerson’s article pointedly explains.

Riiiight. A DNA database would solve rape cases, would it? And how’s that going to work? I go to the police and tell them I’ve been raped; they take swabs and find semen; they run DNA tests and find a match in the database to some respectable fellow who’s never been in trouble with the law, and then… what? They pick him up and interview him; he freely admits that we had sex but says I consented. Where does that leave us?
It would still have to go to trial, the defence team would still drag me over the coals, call me a slut, make me describe all my previous sexual encounters etc, emphasise the defendant’s impeccable character, and ultimately insist that it was mutually consensual sex. Then the jury would have to decide which one of us was lying. So, er, the outcome would be exactly the same as it is in almost all other rape cases. [SOURCE]


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