The DNA Database & Privacy

by Emily Norton

Special to iVoryTowerz

How well should a government know its people? The debate intensifies, The New York Times tells us, as law enforcement officials consider the ramifications of “expanding their collection of DNA to include millions more people who have been arrested or detained but not yet convicted.” The government's argument: An efficient database would not only provide more accurate evidence, but also be an enormous time saving tool. “I’ve watched women go from mug-book to mug-book looking for the man who raped her," Mitch Morrissey, Denver's District Attorney told The Times. Morrissey isan advocate for more expansive DNA sampling. "It saves women’s lives," he said. Of course, this has sparked fuming from other criminal justice experts and groups supporting civil liberties, who see DNA testing as an enormous infringement on privacy rights and proof that the the nation is becoming what The Times called "a genetic surveillance society.”

If DNA records can prove a person is guilty, let us not forget that they can also prove a person innocent. However, it is not the government’s job to keep people tip-toeing around and looking over their shoulder; that would be antithetical to a free society. To quote from V from V for Vendetta: “People should be not be afraid of their governments. Governments should be afraid of their people.” Fear is a root of mistrust; if a government mistrusts its people to the point of permanently scrutinizing citizens for the most petty infringements (sixteen states now take DNA from some who have been found guilty of misdemeanors), reciprocally, will this not birth a new wave of doubt amongst the populace? A DNA sample is a weighty and personal piece of information. Would you be comfortable, as The Times also asked with the government permanently holding your code after you mistakenly wrote an insufficient funds check? Now, that's something to ponder.

(The graphic of a DNA molecule is from NASA and is in the public domain; the graphic was discovered using the everystockphoto.com search engine.)

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