A National DNA Database?
Civil liberties activists seem mostly opposed
to the development of a national DNA database on the grounds that state
officials might somehow be able to abuse ordinary citizens by using the data
that would be contained in it.
However, when one looks closely at their
arguments, their fears seem mostly to be unfounded and any potential abuses of
power that could be engaged in by people in authority could easily
be prevented by maintaining proper safeguards.
THE WHOLE PLANET would eventually benefit from even one national DNA database
because of the huge resource that it would provide for those researching
cures for diseases and the enhancement of human life.
A national DNA database would allow medical
scientists to increase vastly their understanding
A national DNA database
would allow medical scientists to increase vastly their understanding of the
roles that genes play when it comes to every disease that there is
- including those to do with ageing and mental health functioning. It would also
help researchers to identify those who were at future risk and so allow
preventative interventions to take place if appropriate.
Indeed, given that the
entire chemistry of the human body is affected by genes, the possibility of
curing or preventing nearly all current medical ills with the help of gene-associated
therapies is very high. The benefits for everyone
would be enormous, and the massive amount of resources that are now currently
needed to provide proper medical help to people could also be reduced considerably.
And these are just the medical benefits.
But there are also huge benefits to be gained
from the considerable reduction in crime that would occur if there was a
national DNA database. After all, most crimes are committed by the same people - over and over again
- and a DNA
database would help to stop them in their tracks thereby saving everyone a huge
amount of expense and misery. It would also help young boys to stop turning into
more serious criminals because they would be caught at an earlier stage in their
Everyone is affected by crime - if not directly,
Everyone is affected by crime -
if not directly, then indirectly, through the greater security measures that
they have to take - or pay for - and through the terribly negative effects that
crime has on everyone's psyche.
With a national DNA database reducing crime,
the size of the police force could be dramatically reduced and so could
the whole of the criminal justice system.
So, why are civil libertarians so scared of a
national DNA database? How, exactly, do they think that state officials are
going to use such a database to abuse their powers?
After all, the fact that someone has access to a genetic database coded in 1's and
0's on a computer does not mean that they can actually create the DNA in a test
tube and, perhaps, plant it somewhere. Indeed, if someone wants to plant
someone else's DNA, say, at the scene of a crime, then this is already very easy to do.
They simply need to obtain just a tiny sample of some small part of them and put it there!
Further, it seems that most of the wrongful arrests
and abuses of power carried out by police
officers and lawyers occur because they are desperate to 'get a result'. A
national DNA database
would reduce dramatically this sort of pressure on them.
a national DNA database would make it far more
difficult for those with power to abuse it.
Indeed, a national DNA database would make it far more difficult for those
to abuse it. After all, the more that valid information is available, the less difficult it is
to cover up one's tracks - state official or not.
Civil libertarians often argue that a national DNA database would raise the specter of guilt. But
the specter of guilt nowadays falls on to so many people precisely because there
is so much criminality and precisely because police officers very often do not have enough
evidence to pinpoint the real criminals.
Of course, there would definitely be some abuses of power by
a few of the relatively few state
employees who would have access to a national DNA database. But, overall, such a database would
significantly the abuses of power that could take place by greater
of other state officials - and
particularly so if proper safeguards were put in place.
Indeed, if civil libertarians fear that police officers
could abuse their powers by having access to such a database then matters could easily
be arranged so that police officers themselves did not, in fact, have any access to
If every place at every time was being
somehow - DNA, CCTV, global positioning - or, let's just say that absolutely everything
was recorded on film - then no-one would be able to get away with anything!
- because it would all be recorded. And state officials would find it absolutely
abuse their powers without being caught doing so.
And, quite simply, the closer that we get to this state of
affairs, the safer from official abuse will everyone be.
just because events are being recorded, it
does not follow that the events actually need to be monitored
(It is important to note that just because
events are being recorded, it does not follow that the events actually need to
be monitored by people, or even their recordings retrieved. Perhaps, for
example, access to any recordings would only be granted when
were at stake.)
The reduction in crime that a national DNA
database would bring about would also save so many resources that governments
could easily afford to spend a great deal of money in establishing independent
bodies which had the sole duty of ensuring that abuses of power did not take place.
And it is in this area where civil liberties activists should be devoting their
civil liberties activists also actually lose many
supporters by arguing against the development of a national DNA database
Further, from a political point of view, civil
liberties activists also actually lose many supporters by arguing against the
development of a national DNA database because ordinary people know that it has the potential to provide
such huge benefits to just about everyone.
So, in summary, yes, a DNA database could certainly be used to help some
people - particularly some state employees - to indulge in criminal activity.
But it would prevent millions of other crimes. And, in fact, it would actually reduce
the power of state officials to abuse ordinary citizens by a far greater amount than it
would increase it.
Further, the possibility that a few state officials - hundreds even - might,
over time, abuse their powers through accessing a national DNA database pales into utter
insignificance in comparison to the positively enormous amount of good that can be derived from
it both in the area of crime reduction and in medicine.
Power is nowadays shifting all the time away
from police officers, guns, soldiers, politicians and the state
Civil liberties activists need to study this
issue far more closely and, perhaps,
try to look more into the future and less into their History books. Power is
nowadays shifting all the time away from police officers, guns,
soldiers, politicians and the state. It is definitely moving into the hands of
technocrats, computer folk, scientists and thinkers. And it is the spread of
information technology that is doing this. This is something that should be
encouraged by civil liberties activists rather than thwarted by them.
Finally, civil liberties activists should
really start to think far more deeply about why it is that the setting up of a
national DNA database - despite its huge potential for good - is not
being actively and hotly pursued by many people who walk in the corridors of power.
And the reason is simple. The more crime, chaos and mayhem that there is out
there, the more power do they retain relative to everyone else.
By supporting a national DNA database, you are supporting governmental
I could argue that it is **you** who is endorsing tyranny by trying to thwart
measures that would help to prevent millions of crimes (some of them by state
officials) and which would also help to prevent millions of people suffering from terrible
And for what reason do you do this? Simply because you fear that
somebody in official circles, one day, might want to do something bad to YOU!
Besides which, do you really think that the majority of people are going to worry about what
the state **might** do to **some** people given the huge benefits that they
would gain in the future from having their DNA on a database?
There is just far too much to gain by using such
CCTV, face-recognition, DNA analysis etc etc are already creeping up on us.
Their implementation and development might be delayed by activism, but no-one is
actually going to stop this.
There is just far too much to gain by using such technologies.
Now, civil liberties activists can either keep saying NO NO NO to every piece
of new recognition technology - and not getting anywhere - always losing their
arguments, bit by bit - or they can say RIGHT, let's have a look at this
closely and make damn sure that the citizens are protected from any abuses of
power that could arise from using it.
In other words, those concerned about civil
liberties should be saying YES to the technology, but demanding the means to be
able to scrutinise most thoroughly its usage.
Here, for example, is a credit card disaster ...
is a prime nightmare of the digital age: all of your personal information —
credit card numbers, home address, Social Security number — stolen and passed
around, or perhaps even posted on the Internet for anyone to see. link
... but do you really think that people are going to stop wanting
to use their
Are they not amazingly useful devices for saving us time and helping the
economy to flow?
Are we going to step backwards and backwards in time to a cash-only economy?
Do civil libertarians want us to ignore the benefits of technology because
oftentimes informational systems might be abused?
Do we get rid of computers because there are hackers?
Of course not.
The way forward is clearly not to abandon
credit cards, but to develop better safeguards. And opposing the creation of a DNA database is a bit like opposing credit
And my point is that we shouldn't be opposing either - because they are both
extremely valuable information tools.
Instead, we should be demanding damn good safeguards.
In the not-to-distant future, many more diseases will be preventable or
curable through some form of treatment that interacts directly with the chemistry of the
body. And whether it is cancer or the common
cold, the DNA of a person will be very relevant to dealing with it. The more that we
get to know about diseases and DNA, the more relevant to dealing with them will
a person's DNA be seen to be.
there will come a point where people will be rushing
to put themselves on to a DNA database
And there will come a point where people will be rushing to put themselves on
to a DNA database because it will provide them with a great deal of protection.
For example, you can be certain that sometime in the near future wealthy folk will be paying most
handsomely for their DNA to be stored in some private medical database so that
they can be informed about developments that might affect the health of
themselves or their families?
Of course they will do this.
And then poorer folk will demand such things.
And, just like credit cards, it is going to happen.
You mention Ruby Ridge and Waco etc as examples of governmental abuses of
power. But these are absolutely piffling
in comparison to the hundreds of thousands of serious violent crimes that take
place every year,
and to the millions of people suffering from debilitating diseases.
I do not need convincing that governments ... will continue
to abuse their powers forever into the future
And I do not need convincing that governments can abuse their
powers, that governments have abused their powers and that
governments will continue to abuse their powers forever into the
future if they are given the chance.
My point is that if civil liberties activists join together and
always create hell of a fuss over matters to do with freedom of speech,
and always scream blue murder if they are denied access to information,
and always create merry hell if people are prevented from communicating
then their activities will be focused on the three
most important things that will prevent governments from abusing their powers.
If everything that governments do can be properly scrutinised right down to
the last detail then they cannot abuse their powers. And the same goes for
everyone else who might abuse their powers.
The key to preventing people from abusing their powers is to make information
about their activities completely open to scrutiny. Period. End of story. There
is no other way.
In fact, the more powerful are
people or organisations, the more scrutiny they should receive.
Indeed, being subjected to more scrutiny
should always be the price of gaining more power.
And so when civil liberties activists keep droning on about
CCTV, DNA, face
recognition, ID cards, Homeland Security, TIA and goodness know what else -
forever into the future; with a brand new outburst every time that there is a new
piece of technology - and we all start hearing, yet again, about Ruby Ridge,
Waco and the Founding Fathers, I would say this to them.
the spread of information is the key.
In order to protect themselves from those in
power, the spread of information is the key.
Let me give you an example.
CCTV seems to be a problem for certain people.
But one solution, for
example, could be that wherever digital CCTV cameras are employed to monitor the streets or
particular events - such as public demonstrations - perhaps the law should
require them to feed the information that is captured and recorded not only to the police but
also to some independent citizen-oriented bodies over which the police have
Wouldn't this be the best way to satisfy civil libertarians and the
As it stands, however, we have the state - the police - quite rightly
saying that in order to do their job properly they must be able to gather
detailed information so that they can prevent crimes and capture those who
perpetrate them. And so they want to have CCTV.
On the other hand, the civil
liberties activists do not want CCTV because, quite rightly, they want to
protect their liberties and also prevent the police from abusing the power that
CCTV would give them.
Both sides have good arguments.
However, in my
opinion, feeding CCTV information both to the police and to independent citizen-oriented
bodies would solve many of the problems. Not all of them, but most of them.
such a system would protect both ordinary citizens and
the police officers
such a system would protect both ordinary citizens and the police officers -
who, one must point out, are not only very often the specific targets of
assaults, but who are also on the receiving end of countless numbers of false
But it is ordinary citizens who would gain the most.
Let me put
it this way: If you were taking part in a public demonstration being
'shepherded' by the police - i.e. the state - under which of the following
circumstances would you feel the most secure?
1. No CCTV at all.
cameras feeding information only to the police department.
3. CCTV cameras
feeding information to the police department and to independent citizen-oriented
Look at these above three possibilities as a metaphor for what I am
talking about in general when it comes to the need to spread information, and
ask yourself which would make you feel the most secure; 1, 2 or 3?
civil liberties activists continually arguing for number 1, we have, in fact,
more or less ended up with number 2 - the very road to George Orwell's 1984
And the reason
that this Orwellian nightmare is already happening (e.g. Homeland Security) is
precisely because there are many strong arguments for number 2,
but very few strong arguments for number 1 - well, at least, as judged by most
people. And the reason that we do not get number 3 is precisely because civil liberties activists do not seem
particularly keen to argue for number 3 - and so number 3 does not get argued
But, in my view, number 3 above gives us the best chance
for the future.
a. It allows for the development of a technology that is
b. It helps the state to carry out its function of
maintaining law and order - something which most people want.
c. It helps to
protect the ordinary citizen from any abuses of power by the state - or, indeed,
d. It also helps to protect the police.
all this rather bluntly: Most civil liberties activists are actually bringing
about the very nightmare that they fear the most!
are actually promoting it.
they are actually promoting this nightmare by failing to argue for number 3.