Harry

Especially For Young Women

 
   

 

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Benefits Of A National DNA Database

Ouch! Ouch! Ouch!

I have received quite a few emails in response to my piece concerning the benefits of establishing a national DNA database - A National DNA Database?

The vast majority came from Americans and, of these, absolutely all of them were negative!

LOL!

Well, as someone who runs a website which is pretty much devoted to lambasting governments for abusing their powers - particularly when it comes to discriminating against men - I am clearly aware that governments are not to be trusted. 

And I demonstrably spend much of my life trying to point out this fact to whomsoever will listen to me.

So, I was quite surprised at the volume of protest.

Nevertheless, I still stand by my claim that, on balance, a national DNA database would turn out to be of tremendous benefit for people.

In my view, the most fundamental of safeguards against any governmental abuses of power reside in defending these three rights - freedom of speech, freedom of access to information, and access to communications technology. Provided that people have these three rights, it is very difficult nowadays for democratic governments to abuse their powers for very long. And it is on these three rights that civil liberties activists should really focus. 

But, returning to the specific issue of a DNA database, the following points are definitely worth thinking about very carefully.

1. A DNA database would have truly enormous benefits in terms of crime reduction and medicine. Surely it goes without saying that reducing or eliminating much of the damage that is done to everyone both by crime and by disease is an aim worthy of pursuit. And the further spin-offs from doing this would be just huge.

And the fact that, in practice, some officials might be able to abuse their powers in some way and so cause harm to some individuals is utterly insignificant compared to the enormous benefits that could be brought to everyone by establishing - with proper safeguards - a national DNA database.

 the vast majority of people will end up actually demanding that information from their own DNA is analysed and stored

2. One way or another, the vast majority of people will end up actually demanding that information from their own DNA is analysed and stored in order to protect themselves in some way.

For example, regular screening for various diseases such as cancer costs a great deal of money and time. In the not-too-distant future, as the medical technology keeps developing, and as the propensity to succumb to various diseases and deficiencies can be assessed with reference to DNA, people will get fed up with submitting their own DNA to various private laboratories in order to test for this, that, and the other, and they will simply say, "Please, just hold on to my DNA information and send me an email if there is something new that I ought to know about."

At first, independent companies will do this sort of thing. But, before long, poorer folk will start saying, "Hey, what about me? Doesn't my DNA get analysed? Why doesn't government take my DNA and save YOU, the taxpayer, a lot of money by checking out my genetic health propensities. Play fair guys."

And then, perhaps, the government will be forced to step in to provide such people with a similar service - even if only to save themselves a large amount of dollars.

Similarly, when the technology develops to the point where, say, a DNA identification can be made simply by sticking a finger on a screen - or something like that - people will start demanding that this sort of system is used to benefit them in some way.

You don't want to queue at the airport? Then stick your finger on this so that we can identify your DNA quickly.

You don't want us to search your house and take you in for questioning in connection with that rape down the road, then stick your finger on this so that we can quickly eliminate you from our enquiries.

People get hassled by officials mostly because they cannot be identified with certainty, not because they can! 

People get hassled by officials mostly because they cannot be identified with certainty, not because they can. 

And, given that the vast majority of people want to be protected from the negative consequences - stemming from both official sources and otherwise - of the nefarious activities of the few, they will eventually begin to see the advantages to themselves of having themselves easily and accurately identifiable in some way. And so they will demand such a thing.

As another example, imagine two kinds of credit card machines. The first one is of the type that we have today. The second one requires you to stick your finger on the screen, and it can identify you perfectly. Which type of card would you want to possess in order to protect your money from card theft?

Take the case of mobile phones. They can be used by the police to track individuals. But have the people refused to buy them because of this? No. They are sold by the million. The huge demand for mobile phones exists because they are so damn useful - even though the people who own them know that they can be tracked by using them.

It is in this kind of manner that the people themselves will start to bring about the creation of DNA databases. They will find them useful - to protect themselves from crime, from disease and from hassle.

And, eventually, they will demand such a system.

3. Bearing in mind the enormous damage that is done to so many people through crime and disease, it seems somewhat trivial, if not decidedly selfish, to try to thwart the development of a system that could prevent so much of this. Perhaps working on a cancer ward for a week or two would help to open the eyes of those who would oppose a DNA database to the very real suffering and despair of those who are ill and who are losing all hope - and there are millions of them.

 if only the criminals could have been prevented earlier from embarking upon their criminal careers.

Perhaps working inside a prison for a week or two, or living in a crime-infested community, would help to open the eyes of those who would oppose a DNA database to how different things could have been if only the criminals could have been prevented earlier from embarking upon their criminal careers.

Do we want to see millions of people every year in the west dying slowly from lung, bowel or breast cancer, and a host of other horrible diseases? Do we want to see more people having to live surrounded by more crime?

(Powerful stuff, eh?)

Somewhere in the future there will be created at least something like a national DNA database, because, bit by bit, the people will demand it. Perhaps being registered on this database will be optional for people, but, in the long run, they will probably be clambering to get themselves on to it. Why? Because by doing this they will be better able to protect themselves from crime, from disease and from hassle.

Indeed, mothers will probably start demanding that their babies are registered with such a database as soon as they are born so that they can ensure the best protection for their offspring.

But, yes. Some officials will attempt to abuse their powers in connection with such a database. And it is up to activists to keep their eyes open to make sure that they don't!  

4. Our societies should be powering ahead with the development of medical science, communications technology and the spread of information. And though there are indeed dangers and difficulties that will need to be faced by doing this - and so caution is definitely extremely important - the alternative seems far worse. 

consider the dangers of allowing terrorists with future-created biological WMD's to wander freely throughout the country. 

As just one example, consider the dangers of allowing terrorists with future-created biological WMD's to wander freely throughout the country. 

And don't just think about the 'disease' itself. Think also about the chain reactions. The panic. The fear. The breakdowns. The political repercussions. The possible retaliations. The turmoil. The implications for the future.

These things are truly horrible.

And then, before long, people will begin to beg for a DNA database so that terrorists are more likely to be identified and caught, and so that the scientists can come up with better ways to protect them.

In order to avoid such a catastrophe, surely, we need to keep ahead in the race to understand the biology and to identify the 'enemies'? 

5. USA Police here are so intent on catching a suspect in the slayings of four women that they have resorted to pulling over white General Motors pickup trucks and asking the drivers to submit to DNA tests. Such investigative methods have provoked protests from civil libertarians.

how's about civil liberties activists considering the civil liberties of the dead women, eh?

Well, how's about civil liberties activists considering the civil liberties of the dead women, eh? - as well as the civil liberties of their loved ones.

And what about the civil liberties of everyone who is, say, too frightened to go out at night because of such things?

A national DNA database would almost certainly have helped to prevent the deaths of three of these women - if not all four of them, given that criminals such as these usually have a string of previous offences entailing violence.

A national DNA database would also mean that all these truck drivers would not now find themselves being hassled into giving over their DNA.

when civil liberties activists blindly oppose the creation of such a database one really has to ask them whose liberties, exactly, are they actually protecting?

And so when civil liberties activists blindly oppose the creation of such a database one really has to ask them whose liberties, exactly, are they actually protecting?

They are certainly not protecting the liberties of those who are the victims of serious crimes - or of future terrorist attacks - nor the liberties of those who will necessarily be harassed by officials who are eager to discover and capture the perpetrators of such crimes. 

6. Power is always potentially dangerous. It can be used for good or for bad. And this is why it is so important that those people and those organisations that have power are continually monitored and scrutinised very closely indeed.

 

CCTV

 

If we can achieve this and ensure that people have freedom of speech, freedom of access to information, and access to communications technology then there should be nothing to fear from a DNA database - or, indeed, from many other things that civil liberties activists are prone to complain about e.g. CCTV, face recognition, etc.

If civil liberties activists stopped trying to block the accumulation of valid information and instead turned their attention to countering any possible abuse or unfairness that could take place as a consequence of it being obtained, they would get far more support from the public, and they would help pave the way for a vastly improved future.

7. Judging by the emails, the greatest fear surrounding a national DNA database is that, sometime in the future, a government might use it to label people in some way - and then do heinous things to them.

But, in many ways,  it is already too late to worry about this. The DNA technology that could help governments to do such a thing is already here.

DNA technology is spreading like wildfire all over the place, so what is to stop governments from abusing their access to DNA information right now!?

Let's consider some form of ethnic cleansing based on DNA.

Hmm. Let's consider some form of ethnic cleansing based on DNA. Well, at the moment, governments would certainly not be so accurate in their selection of ethnic targets in the first rounding up stage. For example, in Phase One of the operation, they could round up whomsoever they first thought were, say, 'gipsies' - or whatever group that they wanted to round up - and then, simply test their DNA. And then, in Phase Two of the operation, they could just take to the gas chambers the ones who had the targeted DNA.

In other words, protesting against the construction of a national DNA database on the grounds that the government might use it to harm certain groups of people identifiable by their DNA is a bit like arguing that we need to shut the stable door even though the horse has already bolted.

8. Unless we eliminate across the world all DNA research and development, governments (and even terrorist groups) are already in - or very close to being in - a position to do big bad things with it vis-a-vis 'labeling' and ethnic cleansing etc

And a national DNA database would help us to keep ahead in the race to protect ourselves - in very many ways.

Putting this another way: Civil liberties activists need to ask themselves this question. Do we want the Americans and the free-speaking world to develop the greatest understanding of this very powerful technology, or would we prefer some other group to get ahead in the race for it - perhaps the Chinese or the Russians or the Iranians?

Several months before 11 September, Australian scientists published a paper describing how they had unintentionally created a "supervirus" that, instead of sterilising mice as intended, killed every last one. Could this information help someone to create a human supervirus in the same way?

Further, given the possibilities on the horizon when it comes to biological warfare, it is imperative that we get ahead in this particular game.

9. It is no use civil liberties activists burying their heads in the sand and trying to thwart the development of such a huge resource for good.

DNA databases are eventually going to be developed right across the world.

DNA databases are eventually going to be developed right across the world. The people will demand them because so much good can come from them. And by opposing such databases, civil libertarians will simply drive people away from supporting their other very noble and worthwhile aims.

Further, they will retard the relative progress only of their own countries by stirring up negativity toward such databases.

Instead of running scared of this type of technology they should welcome it with open arms, take the bull by the horns, and make damn sure that it is only used for the good. But if they successfully demonise it in the eyes of the public, it will simply go underground and carry on being developed anyway - with other nations getting ahead.

It is only 25 years ago that there were great fears concerning the growth of computer technologies in the workplace. People will be put out of work, they argued. There will be no jobs for anyone. We will all be disempowered.

But just look at what tremendous good computers are doing for us.

Over and over again throughout recent history, science and technology have completely revolutionised the way that we live for the good - from the printing of books, to the industrial revolution, to the development of computers and medicine.

We live far better lives now than did all the generations that went before. We live longer, healthier lives, and we do not have to toil in such terrible conditions just in order to survive. Science and technology, on balance, have done us a tremendous amount of good. And they seem recently to have done this rather quickly.

Finally, it is worth pointing out that the expertise required to create, maintain and operate such a database will be found in medical scientists, computer experts, software programmers and biologists. Rarely are such people driven by politics or the need for power. And so, in some fairly significant way, such a database would represent a shift in power away from those whose work priorities usually involve violence or coercion. 

 a DNA database would shift power away from the very groups of people ... that civil liberties activists often fear the most.

And, of course, a very trivial example of this would be the fact that we wouldn't need so many police officers harassing the drivers of pickup trucks in their search for a serial killer - as per the article above - because they would have caught him ages ago. In other words, a DNA database would shift power away from the very groups of people - in this case, police officers - that civil liberties activists often fear the most.

In summary: If numerous independent and civil liberties bodies are able to monitor and scrutinise very closely what is done with any information that is gathered from a DNA database, then the benefits deriving from such a database have the potential to change our lives enormously for the better.

 



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