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DNA needed to solve crime, all men of town asked to supply sample

By onyxruby in Op-Ed
Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:59:05 PM EST
Tags: Freedom (all tags)
Freedom

The Herald Sun News of Australia has reported that every man living on the north side of the town of Bundaberg is going to be asked to provide a voluntary DNA sample to the police in order to solve a murder.

DNA evidence is some of the best evidence that can be used to convict, or clear, a person that is being charged with a crime. But is it right to collect such data from someone who hasn't been charged with a crime, much less could never be called a bonafide suspect on their own?


How much data should the police be allowed to collect on citizens who are not direct suspects in a crime? Should governments be allowed to collect mass data on citizens at large regardless? It appears in Australia that mass DNA testing in Australia already has at least three precedents at this point.

Criminals and individual suspects can and are forced to get their fingerprints taken and can also be compelled to give over a DNA or a blood sample. Society has accepted this as being reasonable, but by asking the same of citizens at large, we are treating those citizens as we treat criminals. I think this is outrageous. If such data is collected for a given case, and turns out not to be relevant to the case at hand, that data should be destroyed immediately.

At what point does such asking cease to be voluntary and become compulsory for citizens at large? DNA samples could easily be taken at birth, and put into a central computer. Fingerprints could just as easily be taken at a number of points in peoples lives. This can only be a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to government national database registries with all of our biometric data captured.

The nature of data is to be put into a database, and cross indexed for easy access. It is the nature of government data on individuals to be widely shared. In some countries, the public can even demand to see such data, and must be obliged. It is, after all, publicly owned data. It is also the nature of data to be kept around forever, especially when it is stored on a government computer. Do the potential crime fighting benefits outweigh the privacy and police state concerns?

People complain of something like Echelon or computer software invading their privacy, but what can be more personal and private than your very DNA? At what point do we have a reasonable right to refuse the government having biometric data on us?

You might think such a thing could never affect you, but consider that biometric data like fingerprints are already becoming common in many drivers licenses / identification cards as it is. Unfortunately such cards are often required in order to process many transactions. Also keep in mind that many governments will sell your data to marketing companies, my own State of Minnesota included.

On a personal anecdote, not that many months ago I was asked for my drivers license when buying alcohol (to verify age) with cash. I had no problem with this, but before I could protest, the clerk ran my license through a scanner, and my full legal name, drivers license, physical description and whatnot all appeared on his cash register monitor for all the world to see, and were recorded by the store for "posterity". Any store could easily capture and keep this data for marketing or other reasons, and the public appears to be powerless to do anything about it.

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Poll
Mass DNA Samples from these men
o That is just plain wrong 65%
o Who cares? 4%
o I don't mind 9%
o They already have mine 3%
o Sexist, why aren't women being asked? 17%

Votes: 121
Results | Other Polls

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DNA needed to solve crime, all men of town asked to supply sample | 117 comments (99 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
There is a flaw with this approach.... (4.58 / 12) (#1)
by StephenThompson on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:13:13 AM EST

It is a common misperception that forensic DNA testing is able to identify an individual out of the population. All it is actually able to do is correlate DNA samples that could match; that is to say the tests do not test if samples actually match, but if they might match. Thus, DNA evidence can clear a suspect, but it cannot [should not] soley convict him without other evidence. Any individuals DNA test will match approximately 1 out of 100,000 individuals.
Thus, if you have a suspect that had motive, a past history, or other circumstantial evidence, you can do a DNA test and get a high statistical certainty that the person is or is not the culprit.
However,taking a sample out of a large population this way is not valid, because there is a significant likelyhood that innocent people will show up as matches.

Accuracy (5.00 / 4) (#13)
by JeffWilkins on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 08:07:48 AM EST

IIRC fingerprints match approximately 1 out of 100,000 but DNA testing is much higher depending on the method used.

Paternity DNA tests may have that low an accuracy because there is neither a need for high accuracy or a means to achieve it. Ie. the samples of DNA will be different in paternity testing, so you just test that they are similar. With DNA identification you are testing whether two samples are exactly the same and so testing can be done to a greater degree. Whilst it may match closer to about 1 in 50 million (>2.5xPopulation of Au), the tests can only put a person at a location and as you said cannot prove a crime on its own.



[ Parent ]
It's worse than this... (5.00 / 1) (#58)
by Cuchulainn on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:48:04 PM EST

Many of the quotes given are based on misguided assumptions of probability. "New Scientist" magazine has had repeated articles on this very topic over the last 3 years or so. It's quite troubling - one of the things that stuck in my head was the fact that, at the time it was written (late 1999 if my memory is any way accurate), many states used DNA testing that only looked at between 6 and 15 sites. That's not quite the way it is normally portayed, with prosecutors implying that the evidence is somehow based on the total DNA of a person...

Sure, DNA testing can add to the weight of evidence against a person, but you are sorely misguided if you can think that it is useful in proving guilt.
If so don't worry about it, stuff you eat when you're drunk doesn't count, just like stuff you say and people you sleep with. - Parent ]

of course (none / 0) (#60)
by rhyax on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:12:54 PM EST

of course it's not based on total dna. that would be like doing the human genome project on every rapist. no one that knows anything about genetics meant to imply that on purpose. we've seen lately that the new scientist isn't always as fact-checking as they should be so i suggest it's their fault. the 5 or 6 sites you talk about are not randomly chosen, they are sites that are very polymorphic, meaning people are very divergent in those sequences. most of our dna is identical, there is no point sequencing our genes for metabolic enzymes, they are 100% the same, or you have a disease. it's a lot easier to just look at the parts that are different.

[ Parent ]
not that bad actully (5.00 / 1) (#61)
by nodsmasher on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:16:11 PM EST

dna evidence is always givven as a probiblity, they dosn't say that this dna is his they say there is a 1 in what ever probobly these samples are from diferent people, the error is always built in so you know how sure they are
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Most people don't realise just how funny cannibalism can actually be.
-Tatarigami
[ Parent ]
Paternity testing (none / 0) (#70)
by tzanger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 07:59:51 PM EST

My stepson's dad had demanded a paternity test when his son was born (last dying throes of trying to find a way to prove my wife a slut and the kid not his) -- The actual test can determine with very *very* good accuracy whether a subject is or is not related to the sample. IIRC the results almost always come back 5 9s (99.999%) or 0% due to the very specific nature in which sexual reproduction works.

Guess which result he got. :-)



[ Parent ]
Probability and misinterpretation (5.00 / 1) (#76)
by gidds on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:54:56 PM EST

The trouble with DNA evidence is that people don't ask the right questions.  They see that "1 in 100,000" headline and mentally translate it to "DNA evidence is almost totally reliable"...

Okay, assume that figure is right, and that 1 in 100,000 people are likely to match any given DNA sample.  So if you haven't committed the crime, the chance of a DNA match is 1 in 100,000.  So far, so good.

Say we have a city of 500,000 people.  This means that there are, on average, 5 people who will match the DNA found at the crime scene: 4 innocent people, and one guilty.  So they pull in one person at random and get a match.  The probability that they're guilty of the crime (based on the DNA alone) is actually 1 in 5!  A far cry from the "1 in 100,00 chance of a mismatch" figure, simply because that's answering the wrong question.

It's almost like accusing someone simply because they have the same name as the criminal!  It's purely circumstantial evidence, and no jury should convict on that alone.  I really hope that juries are instructed better than they were when DNA testing was first used...  A little understanding of (Bayesian) probability goes a long way.

Andy/
[ Parent ]

It's even worse than that ... (5.00 / 1) (#92)
by dougmc on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 03:17:27 PM EST

Say we have a city of 500,000 people. This means that there are, on average, 5 people who will match the DNA found at the crime scene: 4 innocent people, and one guilty.
You're exactly right -- except that it's worse. There's no guarantee that the guilty is even in this city. He could be in the next city over, as he often is. In that case, it's 5 innocent and 0 guilty ...

[ Parent ]
One More Time (none / 0) (#86)
by epepke on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 10:42:46 AM EST

Between 1% and 2% of the population has an identical twin.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
I think you may be (none / 0) (#108)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 05:05:13 PM EST

misinterpereting the police motivation here. I doubt they expect to pull up somebody's record and say, "There we go, he's our man -- let's just shoot him now and get it over with" (only with an Australian accent, of course). If they have any sense at all, then any evidence gathered here is like any other evidence, and it either adds up or it doesn't. Descriptions of criminals are rarely definitive either, but if you can eliminate asian midget women because the victim could tell you that the robber was a "tall white man", then your life is a little easier, even though that description certainly isn't enough for a conviction.

[ Parent ]
Sort of silly (3.25 / 4) (#2)
by anode on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:20:55 AM EST

Um..if the samples are voluntary, wouldn't the perp be smart enough not to give a sample? This reminds me of that whole boat giveaway at the police station thing on the Simpsons.

Yes, that's exactly what they want. (4.00 / 4) (#11)
by Jel on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 07:09:23 AM EST

Thereby assuming everyone is guilty, proving them innocent by waiting until they provide a voluntary sample, and discovering guilt via a process of elimination.

Last I heard, that's not how a civilised society's justice system is supposed to work.

[ Parent ]

Whoa, jump back (3.00 / 5) (#20)
by Jevesus on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:01:16 AM EST

They are assuming everybody is guilty? Do you believe that yourself or did you just make it up as you went along?
You honestly and truthfully believe that the Aussie police believe everybody did it?

If not, you're just trying to phrase your argument in the worst possible way, and, it retracts from your argument in the first place. Do you want us discussing the topic or your exaggerations?

- Jevesus
[ Parent ]

Look again (4.00 / 3) (#30)
by Jel on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:44:32 AM EST

If not, you're just trying to phrase your argument in the worst possible way

No, I realise it could seem that way, but what I'm actually doing is reducing the issue to first principles (which I consider the law as having a duty to uphold).  Stop and think for a moment about what would happen in other areas of the legal system if this approach were to propagate.  There's a reason why it doesn't happen in most investigations.

[ Parent ]

dna is ripe (2.50 / 2) (#45)
by Jevesus on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:07:38 PM EST

One thing does not necessarily have exclude, or include, the other, really.

No, they are not assuming everybody did it, that stuff is in your mind. You are jumping to conclusions, ill ones.
You are assuming the motive for these measures, and, then arguing against these assumptions of yours.

- Jevesus
[ Parent ]

Whose assumption? (5.00 / 1) (#50)
by Jel on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:40:15 PM EST

No, they are not assuming everybody did it, that stuff is in your mind.

No, it's not.  And.. no, it's not.  ;)

[ Parent ]

Ruling out suspects (4.50 / 2) (#75)
by NtG on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:34:02 PM EST

Ok, back on topic. I partially agree with Jel. Bundaberg doesn't have a large population. When you consider those who are already ruled out as suspects (Women, Children, Elderly), you have a fraction of the population left which, at this stage, could all be considered suspects. DNA analysis is a process of elimination. It allows police to save time by identifying who is not a suspect at this stage (well, this may be true if the entire DNA evidence at this point consisted of more than simply some spit on a bridge, but i would assume through the process of autopsy they would retrieve more in the future). It also allows those who are innocent to submit proof.

I don't live in Bundaberg, but I am an Australian (Canberra) and we have a relatively small population, approximately 4 times that of Bundaberg, and I feel that the Police's role in this has been exaggerated. There is no national DNA register, and if there ever is, it surely won't come without precedence.

[ Parent ]

so the motive is definite? (2.00 / 1) (#88)
by Jevesus on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 11:56:46 AM EST

so the motive here is a process of elimination? we know this, for a fact? right?

feel free to fill in the god damn blanks.

- Jevesus
[ Parent ]

Sheesh... (2.50 / 2) (#12)
by Talez on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 07:46:52 AM EST

They just asked...

It's been done before, people have gone along with it and it probably will happen again. If I was asked and anyone in the whole town could have committed the crime in question, I'd do it simply because it stops the police from wasting any more of their precious time on me. If you don't like it, just politely refuse and move on with your life.

Si in Googlis non est, ergo non est

Come on now (3.75 / 8) (#16)
by wji on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:34:27 AM EST

I'm a lefty libertarian nut, and this doesn't bother me. They asked people for samples. There is no conspiracy. Do you actually think they're going to index this and put it in a giant, evil supercomputer? I think local cops have much better things to do.

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
The problem is . . . (4.90 / 10) (#17)
by acceleriter on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:40:52 AM EST

. . . that if you don't willingly provide a sample, for whatever reason (against your religion or other beliefs, for example), you are now the focus of an investigation. Trying to solve a murder is admirable. Trying to use DNA testing of everyone to find the perp (the line of thinking here is that the one that tries not to be tested is the murderer) is not.

No matter how "voluntary" it's framed to be, voluntary is hardly that when the unspoken implication is that "you must have something to hide" if you don't "volunteer."

[ Parent ]

Doubtful (2.60 / 5) (#18)
by wji on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:47:18 AM EST

First of all, chances are you have an alibi anyway. Secondly, yes your rights are important, but what about the dead girl? Sometimes you have to put up with shit, because shit happens. And I doubt theyll use this to find subjects as much as eliminate them, anyway.

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
[ Parent ]
Escalation of the practice (4.25 / 4) (#19)
by acceleriter on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:56:49 AM EST

I do see where you're coming from. Heck, I might even give a sample in one particular case if I lived in a small town where a girl was murdered, in order to help the investigation along. But where do we draw the line? If it's OK to collect and store biometrics from people not even suspected of a crime, then it must be OK to collect them at birth (as the author alluded to).

And if something as personal as biometrics are OK to gather and store in a cross-referenced government database, why not those liquor store purchases, cell-phone position and calling data, library checkouts, class schedules, credit card records, car rental contracts, fertilizer purchases, hunting licenses, and other private databases currently existing in islands? If governments could only get local governments and private industry to agree on standardized data formats for this stuff and submit it regularly to a central clearinghouse, there'd be a great database to trawl for eliminating millions of suspects for every crime. And so convenient for the citizens--nothing to submit, because government already has it.

Yes, this is a paranoid rant. Yes, it's sort of a slippery-slope argument. But it is an entirely feasible scenario.

[ Parent ]

It's completely different (3.00 / 3) (#21)
by wji on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:03:55 AM EST

In this case they already have an unidentified sample from the killer, and they're comparing it to people from the community. If it doesn't match (I'm assuming) they're throwing it out. If they aren't, that's another story.

And when I think about it, I don't have a rational objection to collecting DNA at birth except that it's creepy. I guess they could use skin and hair samples to identify places you've been and haven't comitted crimes... I don't know. I'd have to think about this some.

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.
[ Parent ]

First rule of police work (5.00 / 1) (#109)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 05:18:12 PM EST

seems to be, "Never throw anything away".

Sure they lose shit all the time, but frankly, if the cops tell me that "all extraneous DNA evidence gathered during the course of this investigation will be discarded", I'd want a public burning, and even then I'd have my doubts. Destroying potential evidence just goes against the grain of any decent cop.

There's an interesting document from the UK, containing the following passage:

Retention of fingerprints and samples taken from suspects

7. Section 82 of the Act amends section 64 of PACE. It removes the obligation to destroy fingerprints and samples when the individual is cleared of the offence for which they were taken, or a decision is made not to prosecute. The prohibition on use of such prints or samples in evidence or in the investigation of other offences is also removed. It is replaced by a rule to the effect that any fingerprints or samples taken on suspicion of involvement in an offence can be retained. They can only be used for purposes related to the prevention and detection of crime, the investigation of any offence or the conduct of any prosecution (including crimes committed or prosecutions brought outside the UK). The term "use" includes retaining fingerprints and information derived from samples on databases that will allow speculative searches and disclosure to any person. Thus if a match is established between an individual, who has been cleared of an offence, and a subsequent crime scene the police are able to use this information in the investigation of the crime.

8. These measures apply to fingerprints and samples that are already in the system and would have fallen to be destroyed under the previous provisions of s64 of PACE.

Fingerprints and samples given voluntarily for the purpose of elimination

9. Fingerprints and samples given voluntarily for the purposes of elimination, where the individual is not a suspect, can now be retained and used for other investigations and may be the subject of speculative searches, providing the volunteer gives their written consent. Once written consent has been given it can not be withdrawn.

10. Where consent is not given the fingerprints or samples must be destroyed and the information derived from them can not be used in evidence against the person concerned or for the purposes of investigation of any offence.

11. Fingerprints and samples given voluntarily for the purposes of elimination play an important part in many police investigations. An example of this is DNA intelligence screens. It is important to ensure volunteers are not deterred from participating and that consent is both fully informed and voluntary.

12. A new form words for these purposes is given in ANNEX A, based on the existing DNA intelligence screen form.



[ Parent ]
Fine, then. (4.00 / 5) (#27)
by DarkZero on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:24:09 AM EST

If that's the problem, then why don't we just make a mountain out of a mountain when this process is actually abused by the police, rather than making a mountain out of a mole hill when nothing bad has happened yet and may not happen at all?

All of this, both the article and the comments, sounds like something out of "The Onion".

"Community Is Horrified As Man Buys Kitchen Knife At Wal-Mart"
SUBURBIA-- Neighbors, friends, and relatives were horrified today when Bob Livingston, 42, bought a kitchen knife at Wal-Mart. "Sure, he probably won't murder his children with it, but he could," said Mrs. Jones, the nosy old bitch from across the street, reiterating that buying a kitchen knife is a very slippery slope for a person to tread on. "First he's cutting his chicken with it, next he's cutting up my poodle and going on a county-wide rampage." The man's neighbors, all of which have attended his annual barbecue for years, admitted that Mr. Livingston has bought several kitchen knives in the past and has yet to kill anyone, but most of them were still irked by it. "Sure, you can use a kitchen knife without becoming a murderous psychopath, and Bob's owned them for years... but he still shouldn't be allowed to have one. Something could still go wrong, because, like... it's a slippery slope. And stuff."

Please drop the ridiculous "slippery slope" argument and wait until this process is actually abused by someone. Widespread, voluntary DNA testing has been used for years in many different countries in a way that does not infringe on freedom or privacy. When it is abused, I will be up in arms right alongside you. Oh, and one more thing:

The problem is that if you don't willingly provide a sample, for whatever reason (against your religion or other beliefs, for example), you are now the focus of an investigation.

If someone was in the area at the time of the crime and refuses to be DNA tested, they will be asked where they were at the time of the crime and if they can back that story up. If they can back it up, they will be let go. You seem to think that this is a horrible idea, but did you actually think your argument through and ask yourself what the police did before DNA testing? I'll tell you. They asked everyone that was in the area at the time of the crime where they were and if they can back the story up. So what you're viewing as some sort of infringement of people's rights is actually just the way that police work has always been done. The only difference now is that they can do it more accurately and with less harassment of the citizenry.

[ Parent ]

Remaining silent (4.80 / 5) (#31)
by dennis on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:15:19 PM EST

They asked everyone that was in the area at the time of the crime where they were and if they can back the story up.

Actually, I've read a number of places that the thing to do in this situation, even assuming you're innocent, is to refuse to answer. If you tell the police what you remember of where you were, and they poke holes in your story because you misremembered something, a good prosecutor can tear you apart. If you just stay quiet, there's really nothing they can do unless they find some actual evidence against you. (In the U.S. anyway, I don't know what other countries have an equivalent to Miranda.)

Personally, I won't "prove myself innocent," give voluntary DNA samples, or let a cop without probable cause peek in my empty trunk. I am a free citizen, and presumed innocent, and if the police want to search or arrest me they're required to have a good reason - in which case, I have a right to an attorney, and won't speak without one.

There's no point in living in a country with civil rights if you waive your rights whenever you're asked.

In any case, abuse, corruption, and simple incompetence are so common in law enforcement that it seems kind of silly to ask whether they'll abuse their latest new powers as well. Most cops are decent and honest, imo, but plenty aren't...FBI agents are in trouble for insider trading, abuse of law enforcement databases is common, etc.

[ Parent ]

Miranda (an aside) (none / 0) (#111)
by davidduncanscott on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 04:49:45 PM EST

is the decision that you need to be told about your fifth amendment right to avoid self-incrimination, as well as your rights to an attorney and to sing the blues, not those rights themselves.

[ Parent ]
Slippery Slope (3.66 / 3) (#34)
by Ludwig on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:18:31 PM EST

The "slippery slope" is not a fallacy when you're talking about establishing a legal precedent. I realize that a legal precedent is not exactly what's being set here; it's more of a procedural precedent, which doesn't carry the same weight, but it's nonetheless troubling.

How many people pre-Miranda were coerced into falsely confessing and sent up the river because they didn't know they could lawyer up? Sure, they confessed "voluntarily," but that word takes on a very different meaning when some bull is standing in the doorway with a rubber hose. (Not to mention that a conviction based on a false confession leaves the actual perpetrator still at large.) Similarly, submitting your DNA for testing is not really "voluntary" when the alternative is becoming an instant suspect, to say nothing of an embarrassing public investigation.

[ Parent ]

Slippery slope (4.00 / 2) (#53)
by acceleriter on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:13:45 PM EST

Please drop the ridiculous "slippery slope" argument and wait until this process is actually abused by someone.

But then, it will be too late.

[ Parent ]

sure you don't have to talk to the police (3.00 / 3) (#36)
by nodsmasher on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:34:04 PM EST

but if you go "im not talking to you 'couse i don't have to" ther'er going to start looking at you quite more intencly, should police be banned from asking people where they were on the night in question just to rule them out ?
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Most people don't realise just how funny cannibalism can actually be.
-Tatarigami
[ Parent ]
hmm (5.00 / 1) (#65)
by rhyax on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:44:20 PM EST

really? if this were in the us i would assume the data would be indexed and kept actually. perhaps australia doesn't have the infrastructure for that yet, if they don't i don't think they would go out of their way to keep it you're right. in the us though it's pretty easy to do.

[ Parent ]
Giant evil supercomputer (5.00 / 1) (#67)
by cyberformer on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:47:49 PM EST

I don't know about Australia, but many countries do keep DNA and fingerprint records of criminals, but not of the general population. In Britain, the police routinely take a DNA sample from everyone who they arrest, but they are supposed to destroy it if the suspect is released without charge or found not guilty.

Naturally, the police abused their power. A few years ago, a man was actually convicted based on a DNA sample (from a previous case) that should have been destroyed but wasn't. He appealed and had the conviction overturned. Because there's a good chance that and might have been convicted anyway, based on other evidence, the police were a lot more careful afterwards. If you are acquited of a crime in an English court, you have the right to go to the police station with your lawyer and personally destroy your samples.

All this occurred before the current obsession with terrorism, of course. There are now proposals to allow the police to store samples forever, and even for a "voluntary" database of everyone's DNA that would be very close to a "giant evil supercomputer."

[ Parent ]

Insurance (4.37 / 8) (#22)
by Rasman on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:15:09 AM EST

Yeah, you know who else might want access to public DNA records of individuals? Insurance companies. You have a genetic predisposition to heart disease, up go the premiums!

BAD IDEA

---
Brave. Daring. Fearless. Clippy - The Clothes Pin Stuntman
Best of luck (none / 0) (#55)
by acceleriter on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:01:32 PM EST

buying a significant amount of life insurance in the U.S. right now without submitting to a cheek swab. Though they now claim it is for specific tests (e.g. HIV), what stops them from testing for genetic disposition to anything?

[ Parent ]
Making mountains out of molehills (4.14 / 7) (#23)
by AmberEyes on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:18:23 AM EST

The Herald Sun News of Australia has reported that every man living on the north side of the town of Bundaberg is going to be asked to provide a voluntary DNA sample to the police in order to solve a murder.

I bolded the important parts.

As much as I value privacy, this is FUD that's being spread.

Criminals and individual suspects can and are forced to get their fingerprints taken and can also be compelled to give over a DNA or a blood sample. Society has accepted this as being reasonable, but by asking the same of citizens at large, we are treating those citizens as we treat criminals.

Again, important parts highlighted. On one hand, you paint a horrible picture of lines upon lines of people, submitting their DNA to a mandatory police operation. Except that earlier, your entire essay is based on a news article that says it was voluntary. So which is it? Where are these lines upon lines of mandatory submission?

This can only be a slippery slope that will inevitably lead to government national database registries with all of our biometric data captured.

Proof please? It only can be a slipperly slope that will lead to blah blah blah? Are you sure? Or is this just FUD?

-1 for crazed speculation and unwarranted accusation.

-AmberEyes


"But you [AmberEyes] have never admitted defeat your entire life, so why should you start now. It seems the only perfect human being since Jesus Christ himself is in our presence." -my Uncle Dean
hmm! (3.50 / 2) (#37)
by Ruddigger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:34:59 PM EST

"A police source said hundreds of households on Bundaberg's northside this week would receive letters asking all males to voluntarily provide a cheek swab."

Despite the ominous title of the Herald Sun article, it does seem to be voluntary. The article also states the turnout of two other "mass DNA tests." One had 80 tests and the other had almost 200 tests... doesn't sound to massive to me...

[ Parent ]
Here's a Toss-In (none / 0) (#105)
by virg on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 05:53:21 PM EST

As quoted in the article:

> "A police source said hundreds of households on Bundaberg's northside this week would receive letters asking all males to voluntarily provide a cheek swab."

What if I swabbed someone else's cheek and sent that in instead? How do they know when someone is spoofing? What purpose would all of this serve? The problem with this is not that it's involuntary. The problem is that it's arbitrary, and it's not going to get the crime solved, and the implication that if Mr. X doesn't give over a sample he's somehow more suspect than before the request was made has disturbing ramifications.

Virg
"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
It's not mail-order DNA (none / 0) (#112)
by davidduncanscott on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 05:01:44 PM EST

Just because they're sending letters doesn't mean they expect people to mail them a Q-Tip. I imagine the letter invites the gentlemen to drop by the station and have the swab done, possibly even by somebody trained in that sort of thing.

[ Parent ]
Obviousity (none / 0) (#113)
by virg on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 05:30:51 PM EST

I know, I know, but what I'm doing is pointing up a real issue with DNA samples. For more realism, what if your sample gets marked with the sticker of the guy behind you? Worse, what if you have nothing to do with the crime, but because of a close hit or a false positive, you "match" the DNA found at the scene? You'd then be in the very precarious position of having to prove you weren't there. What if you don't have an airtight alibi? As a side note, how many days this week can you account for where you were at all times, with corroborating evidence (don't forget your commute or time you were in a bathroom or otherwise alone unless you have witnesses or other proof)? This is one of the very real dangers of having your DNA in a system whose sole function is to search for matches with evidence from crime scenes.

Virg
"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
oh, absolutely (none / 0) (#114)
by davidduncanscott on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 10:17:49 AM EST

which is why no sane trial lawyer would want to go to court with just one piece of any kind of evidence, including the old faithful eyewitness. I've heard of DNA alone being used to clear somebody of a crime, but I've never heard of a conviction based only on it.

I think it's also reasonable to assume that you, as the defendant, could ask for a second sampling, and in fact you'd be a fool not to do so. For that matter, the police would be fools to go to trial without a second test, because they know that labels get switched too, and they really don't want to convict the wrong guy and then have to do the whole thing over again when the crimes continue (it cuts into donut time.)

[ Parent ]

Convictions (none / 0) (#115)
by virg on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 11:18:51 AM EST

The problem lies in the the match, not the trial. Of course it's very hard to convict based solely on the DNA match, but there are many crimes where the mere accusation is enough to do irreparable harm. What if the match in question occurs during the investigation of a rape? Or the murder of a child, or a famous figure? The accusation itself can beget dire consequences even if the police then decide not to prosecute. If you think acquittal (or dropped charges) is sufficient to repair the reputation damage, ask yourself why O. J. Simpson can't get a job any more. Plus, there is a significant expense even in successfully defending oneself against an accusation. Who pays your legal fees when your case is thrown out? You do.

Considering that there's absolutely no real benefit to giving the sample, I can't see why anyone would volunteer. If there's enough reason, the police can demand a sample from a suspect. Giving it up voluntarily is just exposing yourself to unneeded risk.

Virg
"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
The point being (none / 0) (#116)
by davidduncanscott on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 02:11:08 PM EST

that responsible prosecutors know this, and don't bring charges unless they have enough to go to trial. If nothing else, it plays hell with your conviction rate.

Yes, being investigated needlessly sucks. It is, however, just one of many ways in which violent crime sucks -- all sorts of lives are changed, and few for the better, and I'm sure that if you have a better way the cops will be happy to hear it.

I agree that there's little in it for the individual. OTOH, the extension of that thought is to refuse to co-operate with any investigation (unless maybe you're the victim), since answering even a simple "Have you seen this man?" can lead only to trouble. I tend to feel that the risk is outweighed by the general gain in civil order when criminals are caught.

Of course, here in Baltimore we haven't had any of these "mass DNA sweeps", and in fact I'm not sure about their status under US law. It'd certainly be unpopular.

(Oh, and OJ? I'm thinking that the lack of any discernible job skills is a factor as well. AFAIK his only offering was popularity, which is always fragile. He's not on food stamps even now, though.)

[ Parent ]

Scale of Involvement (none / 0) (#117)
by virg on Fri Jun 14, 2002 at 03:50:27 PM EST

> that responsible prosecutors know this, and don't bring charges unless they have enough to go to trial. If nothing else, it plays hell with your conviction rate.

This makes sense, but it's not true. I've seen too many cases where prosecutors arrested someone on suspicion of something irrelevant to the case so they could go on a fishing expedition in the questioning room (several of my relatives are trial lawyers who told me of such things) to garner enough to make a charge stick.

> I agree that there's little in it for the individual. OTOH, the extension of that thought is to refuse to co-operate with any investigation (unless maybe you're the victim), since answering even a simple "Have you seen this man?" can lead only to trouble. I tend to feel that the risk is outweighed by the general gain in civil order when criminals are caught.

This is an overextension of scale. To equate to what you're saying, the officer would have to walk up to me, say, "have you seen this man?", take my photograph to put in the mug shot book so any future crime victims can possibly finger me, and mark me as a possible suspect for the crime being investigated if I don't answer. That seems a little more extreme, no? There are levels of involvement in any investigation, and this particular effort goes way over the line in the risk/benefit equation.

> Oh, and OJ? I'm thinking that the lack of any discernible job skills is a factor as well.

Point conceded, but keep in mind that since my argument was that the acquittal wasn't enough to repair the damage of the accusation, this may prove my point as well as yours. 8)

Virg
"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
well (none / 0) (#62)
by rhyax on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:19:11 PM EST

Well, this is a somewhat important topic to talk about, you may not have a problem with national genetic databases, but it's not like no one wants one. is the CODIS database common knowledge? here is a press release about it. it's a system for the fbi to standardize the way identification works. as someone on another thread pointed out they look at a certain number of sites on the dna, the problem is the sites texas uses might be different from the sites california uses etc. also, texas's computer system may not be compatible with california's or the fbi's. this system seeks to establish standards for primer sets, procedure and computer storage.

if it's a slippery slope, we're alreay at the bottom :)

[ Parent ]

If it's voluntary, what good does it do? (none / 0) (#73)
by Wateshay on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 08:54:14 PM EST

My question is, if the whole thing truly is voluntary, then why do it at all? Are the police so stupid as to think that the killer would actually volunteer to submit to the test? It seems to me that the only reasonable explanation is that they want to narrow down their list of suspect to everyone who refuses to get tested. That doesn't sound quite so voluntary (even if there aren't legal ramifications).

"If English was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for everyone else."


[ Parent ]
DNA is inherited (none / 0) (#84)
by Pseudonym on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 07:22:05 AM EST

I think the idea is that while you may not catch the culprit, you may find a relative, which may help you track down the real perpetrator. DNA lets you do that.



sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f(q{sub f{($f)=@_;print"$f(q{$f});";}f});
[ Parent ]
seem like it or not, it still is voluntary (none / 0) (#100)
by greg pass on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 02:47:14 AM EST

But unless nearly everyone submits DNA, you've still got an unreasonable number of suspects. The point is probably that anyone who was already suspected of being guilty can prove themselves innocent.
greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass greg pass
[ Parent ]
Old news (3.00 / 4) (#24)
by Betcour on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 10:46:54 AM EST

This already happened several years ago in France when a british girl, Caroline Dickinso, was raped and killed in a hotel. After the police failed to find any serious suspect every man in town was asked to provide DNA samples for test (on a volontary basis). Everybody participated but no match was found.

The murderer was cought by accident serveral years later while he was traveling in US.

Yeah, the fact that it is getting common... (none / 0) (#107)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Wed Jun 12, 2002 at 02:10:23 PM EST

... that can't be important at all. After all, if it didn't happen for the very first time in the last 12 hours, it is old news and irrelivant. Only new things matter, especially the shiny ones. Looking at patterns and trends in the data over time is silly.



[ Parent ]

Prints, and voluntary DNA sampling (4.63 / 11) (#25)
by jabber on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:02:19 AM EST

My Green Card has my fingerprint right on it. This doesn't trouble me much in practice, but it bothers me in principle. As a non-citizen, I am under higher scrutiny than the native-born children and grand-children of non-citizens. It's like making me to pee in a cup (implying I am lying when I SAY that I do not do drugs) while someone born here is presumed to not be a user at face value.

Lately, it is necessary to err on the side of caution, and in practice, being printed costs me nothing but a little cognitive dissonance with which I can live. But, in the spirit of all men being created equal, and people being assumed innocent until proven guilty, philosophically, I would like to  see either everyone printed, or no one at all without a due-process warrant brought on by reasonable suspicion of that individual having commited a crime.

If and when I choose to become a Citizen, my prints will remain on file, I am sure. And suddenly, my legacy of being a non-native will put me at a disadvantage, since if I leave my prints at the scene of a crime, without ever having been a part of it, my name will immediately come up in the database as a hit, not as an 'unidentified'.

You see, by coming to the US for a better life, I automatically have a record. You, as a native born Citizen, do not.

Now as for the liquor store scanning licenses.. I've had that same experience. From a technological perspective, I thought it was very cool, but I agree, the potential for privacy abuse is significant.

I know women who do not purchase alcohol at certain places because the guy behind the counter is 'creepy', and they do not want to expose their names and addresses to him. Yes, it's a bit paranoid, but they have every right to the level of privacy they choose. Should they now worry about protecting their information from the other people who might be in the store, and happen to glance at the screen as their information is displayed? Should they worry about the guy in the back room, who is looking at a second screen, and at the security camera? Or the guy who works a different shift, whom they try to avoid, who could easily roll back through the transactions?

Immediate, personal privacy is a hair's breadth from being violated here, and we've not even gotten into the potential for profiling, which recording customer information holds.

We're willing to accept many violations of our privacy in exchange for convenience. I like good imported beer for example. If my buying record is kept, then at checkout, the clerk could see what I like, and preemptively try to sell me on the new line of Belgian lambics that they will start carrying next month. Not in response to my question, but simply because of the info that pops up when he scans my license, he could say "Hey, come in next Friday. We'll be getting those Lambics, and a fresh batch of Leffe". I would of course say "Thank you", since I AM interested, but I would have a sticky shadow follow me home.

I don't like people analysing my drinking habits. And the prospect of my health insurance company buying that data really bothers me.

[TINK5C] |"Is K5 my kapusta intellectual teddy bear?"| "Yes"

As little info as necessary (none / 0) (#87)
by Fizyx on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 11:32:47 AM EST

the prospect of my health insurance company buying that data really bothers me.

This is a key point, and it bothers me too. And it would also bother me to have a rapist at large. But it's a false choice to say, "you must disclose your genome, or criminals go free." There is a middle ground.

Break it down: you don't need to say "these base pairs are mine", you only need to be able to prove "those base pairs are NOT mine". Here's a protocol which works (there may be more efficient scheme, but that's not the point): take my DNA and mix it up with the DNA of ten (a hundred? more?) random people, preferably widely distributed around the globe (i.e., they are not suspects). Then see if there is a match between the crime scene sample and the mixed up batch (this works). If no match, go to the next batch. My innocence is proven, and at no point can a third party have access to my genome.

This is a difficult and important issue. Kudos to K5 for discussing it.

[ Parent ]

Sign of the Times (4.50 / 4) (#26)
by Spork on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:15:12 AM EST

As some have said, this particular investigation is not really such a huge civil rights problem in itself. (Although even here, you might wonder if the police will take a hard second look at the people who don't "volunteer" their DNA.)

However, this story in juxtaposition with the "homeland security" insanity sweeping through western states (especially the US) is what really should send up warning flags. Right now, all immigrants are forced to have all 10 of their fingerprints on file, already a (supposedly) unique biometric identifier. Surely, if the government wanted to collect DNA in addition to the fingerprint, it wouldn't run into a legal problem, especially with today's courts and the hysterical political climate.

Now that I mention it, I seem to remember having my thumbprint scanned just to get my California driver's license. How long will it be before they take a cheek swab too? I have a feeling it's just a matter of cost at this point. And if they do, on what basis would I object? After all, I didn't object when they took my thumbprint and photograph, which are supposed to be just as unique as identifiers as DNA.

Anyway, the more individual investigantions resort to this sort of DNA roundup, the more the authorities will push for a simpler system, where we collect the DNA before any crime gets committed. Then when there is a crime, we just DNA-Google to find the perpetrator. It sure would be more efficient than setting up these makeshift DNA extraction stations every time there is a murder somewhere. The way I see it, the only thing holding this back is not really political but technological. Fingerprinting is still much cheaper and less resource-intensive. Getting an accurate DNA print is just now getting mass-automated, and storing the data is just now getting to the "very cheap" level. Searching technology is also finally up to the task.

My guess is that if you live in the USA, the next time you renew your license nothing will change, but the time after that, they will ask you for a voluntary DNA contribution ("to help the authorities expedite investigations of terrorism and violent crime"). How many more renewals you can go through before this stops being voluntary is not yet clear. It depends partly on the creativity of future terrorists and the degree of stupidity in future US foreign policy.

The title looked familiar... (2.66 / 3) (#32)
by The Littlest Hobo on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 12:23:46 PM EST

And I thought to myself, "That's not unusual; it's happened before. Why is this news?" until I realized... the place I'd seen it before was in a movie.

The killer, if indeed a resident of said town, is best advised to watch that film for some ideas on faking their DNA.



notice the key word there (2.25 / 8) (#35)
by nodsmasher on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:29:27 PM EST

volintary
people, if they feel like being good citizens can suply the police with a sample so they can be (hopfully) rulled out of teh crime, really nothing wrong with that

the nature of data is NOT necesaraly to be put in databases, some data is, but on the other hand much data is not cross refenced

most drivers lisenses do NOT have biometrics on them, most just have a picture and a signiture
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Most people don't realise just how funny cannibalism can actually be.
-Tatarigami
Bad counterexample (4.00 / 2) (#41)
by onyxruby on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:17:23 PM EST

Your picture is certainly biometric data. Remember all those face scanning cameras and programs that were making the news some time ago? The same thing applies to your handwritten signature. Such biometric data can and has been abused by police departments already. I found a good website that is focused on barcode standards, but also incidently mentions various biometric data besides pictures and signatures that is already being required in order to get a drivers license. Biometric data is being collected, and it is being put into databases.

The moon is covered with the results of astronomical odds.
[ Parent ]

picture might be used as biometric data (3.00 / 3) (#48)
by nodsmasher on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:26:22 PM EST

its kinda pointless to bitch about that too becouse they can just as easaly put a camrea up and get that

but of course both your picture and your sig are very pointless at the moment as biometric's becouse all software used at the moment used to recignize them are quite faulty and faily pointless to recignize somthing

further more remember that driving a car on the roads that the goverment makes is a privalatg not a right, if you don't want to drive on goverment roats then you do not have to get a lisence, the goverment has a perfectly resonable right to keep records on all people it trusts to drive cars on their roads
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Most people don't realise just how funny cannibalism can actually be.
-Tatarigami
[ Parent ]
The more important concern is... (4.80 / 5) (#39)
by Ruddigger on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 01:45:49 PM EST

Go read the article. The police are testing against a saliva sample on the bridge! They found spit on a bridge! It could be anyone... I mean who doesn't spit off a bridge given the chance? Blah!

Spitting? (none / 0) (#77)
by Bnonn on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:29:09 PM EST

    I mean who doesn't spit off a bridge given the chance? Blah!
Erm, me? And the majority of civilised human beings? Or am I deluding myself?

[ Parent ]
when spitting from a bridge becomes the yardstick (4.00 / 3) (#91)
by tralfamadore on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 02:47:00 PM EST

by which to measure whether you're civilized or not, then count me as an uncivilized bastard.
i.e. you're deluding yourself.

[ Parent ]
Remarkably easy... (none / 0) (#99)
by Bnonn on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 12:11:42 AM EST

...to offend some people. Didn't I say "the majority" of people? I just never got why expelling bacteria- and virus-laden saliva from one's mouth into the environment was considered anything other than a distasteful and unhygeinic practice.

Off a bridge seems rather pointless; go ahead if that fries your bacon. Onto the ground though, as many people do where I live...that's kinda annoying. It's a bit disgusting to walk along avoiding these little white blobs of foam. It's mostly younger teenagers, admittedly. I guess they grow out of it as they realise there are more interesting ways to try to return to their animal roots.

[ Parent ]

Precedent? (2.66 / 3) (#40)
by holdfast on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:15:40 PM EST

DNA samples have long been requested for all sorts of reasons.

A few years ago, an elderly wealthy British citizen was asked to send a DNA sample to the Russian authorities.  He was not in Russia and was not suspected of any crime there.  Apparently, he quickly sent a sample without making any complaint.  Nobody in the UK thought this was a bad thing and a major forensic investigation proceeded.  They were trying to identify some murdered bodies.

The Brit in question was the Duke of Edinburgh (aka the Queens husband) and the bodies in question turned out to be the Russian Tsar, Tsarina and their family, murdered in 1917.


DNA analysis is a tool.  These Australians have been asked to help with an investigation.  Helping the police is generally a good thing in Australia, the UK and probably the US.  Don't be so paranoid.  I help the police.  They are here for my benefit as well as the governments.



"Holy war is an oxymoron."
Lazarus Long
Apples and oranges (4.75 / 4) (#42)
by onyxruby on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:34:24 PM EST

You are referring to a completely different situation than what I am talking about here in my article. You are referring to a situation where a specific person was asked to help in resolving a murder (the Tsar's family) because that specific person's DNA had a reasonable connection to the case at hand. This is a far cry different from being asked to hand over your DNA just because you live in an area, or before that much longer, want to get a drivers license renewed. You'll note that I pointedly covered your point about individual linkage to a case,
Criminals and individual suspects can and are forced to get their fingerprints taken and can also be compelled to give over a DNA or a blood sample. Society has accepted this as being reasonable...
and raised no objection to it. I have no objection to getting relevant biometric data from someone who is a suspect in a crime, or could help in resolving the identity of a murder victim by relation.

The point of the article, is that the police are going on what's referred to in legal circles as a "fishing expedition". In other words, they don't really have any reason to call any one of these people a suspect, and would never have sufficient evidence to collect such data from them individually, or they'd have already done it. It's a slippery slope, if not part of a town, why not the whole, or the county, and on. This has already happened in some countries with fingerprints, it is not unreasonable to conclude that DNA would be next. Combine this with much public data being available upon demand, and you have serious privacy concerns.

The moon is covered with the results of astronomical odds.
[ Parent ]

Missed the point... (4.00 / 2) (#46)
by ectospasm on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:08:39 PM EST

I think you missed the point, totally. Onyxruby is right, the police can't solve the crime so they're fishing for suspects. Anyone who "volunteers" their DNA is a fool; how much do you trust your government? I wouldn't think you'd have any guarantee that they'd destroy the DNA data on you when you're either ruled out as a suspect or the case closes. Having your DNA data in a database could also lead to you not being able to get health care (well, at least in the US)because you fit the genetic profile for any number of genetically linked illnesses. And who's to say the government will protect the data from uses like that?

[ Parent ]
the thing about dna (3.66 / 3) (#63)
by nodsmasher on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:24:37 PM EST

is you can find it any ware, if your paraniod about sombody geting your dna then god forbid you pay by credid card at a resturunt becouse if they wanted they could cross index your fork with your name and sell that do a health insurence company ect

every time you do just about any thing sombody could find you dna, what makes you think that girl you slept with last night isn't goign to sell your used condom to them, you don't know
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Most people don't realise just how funny cannibalism can actually be.
-Tatarigami
[ Parent ]
Not systematic, however (none / 0) (#68)
by skunk on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 07:26:30 PM EST

That's a good point you bring up, but such a surreptitious manner of DNA acquisition doesn't scale---which mitigates the potential social implications. Sure, an insurance company can get DNA on one particular person if they wanted to, but getting DNA on a majority of its covered beneficiaries is a whole 'nuther story. A systematic process/infrastructure would be needed to make a genetic filtering policy feasible.



--SS
[ Parent ]
The problem with "voluntary" (4.33 / 6) (#43)
by bobaloo on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 02:51:10 PM EST

The question is how voluntary this really is.

For example, the Washington state police have started "voluntary" searches of vehicles using the ferry system. You're not "required" to allow your car to be searched, but on the other hand they can then refuse to allow you to use the public ferry, which is the only source of transportation to many areas. In other words, it's not what I would define as "voluntary", and I think we'll be seeing more and more of this.

In this case, if you decline to give a DNA sample, do you go on the "short list" of suspects? What's done with the DNA data when this investigation is done? Do you think the data will be erased? My bet is it will go to a larger data base for "safe-keeping" and future reference.

Sometimes paranoia is just a heightened state of awareness...

Clarification. (3.33 / 3) (#44)
by ti dave on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 03:01:25 PM EST

The Washington State Patrol conducts these searches,
and the Ship's Captain [a State DOT employee] may deny
boarding privileges to those who decline the search.

Your use of "they" is misleading.

"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."

[ Parent ]
Whatever. (5.00 / 2) (#54)
by acceleriter on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 04:58:20 PM EST

If the ship's captain routinely refuses boarding to those who refuse the search, the effect is the same as if the state did it, and therefore just as much of a 4th amendment violation. Of course, this is probably a perfect loophole that violates the spirit but not the letter of the Constitution, so they'll probably continue to get away with it. And if anyone complains, he'll be called a terrorist sympathizer.

[ Parent ]
Whoops. (5.00 / 1) (#56)
by acceleriter on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:03:39 PM EST

The ship's captain is a state employee, as you said. So it's state coercion to consent to a search anyway. What I was saying above would apply if the captain were not a state employee--the state patrol would still be effectively denying boarding for not consenting to a search.

[ Parent ]
No, you were on the right track... (4.00 / 2) (#57)
by ti dave on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:36:44 PM EST

with your first reply.

The Captain isn't denying boarding under the authority of being a State employee, he's doing it under the color of being the Ship's Captain.

As the Ship's Captain, he has the right, long established under Admiralty Law,
to maintain safety, order and discipline aboard his vessel.

That's the "loophole" that's being exploited here.

If the Director of the Washington State Department of Transportation gave the Ferry Captain an order to wear a blindfold during docking operations, the Captain could, and rightly so, tell him to take a long walk off a short pier.

"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."

[ Parent ]
I know squat about Admiralty law (none / 0) (#59)
by acceleriter on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 05:58:25 PM EST

but the part about ship's captains having ultimate sway applies even in territorial waters? I remember something about certain rights not being in effect until 12 n.m. out (in international waters).

[ Parent ]
As with Airplane Pilots... (none / 0) (#66)
by ti dave on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:44:36 PM EST

they are responsible for the safety of their passengers, and for the proper operation of their vessels.

Just because a flight may be conducted exclusively over the Airspace of a Nation, doesn't mean that the Pilot is absolved from any responsibility for the actions of his crew and the passengers.

"Ultimate sway" isn't the point. The Captain isn't given carte blanche to abuse his passengers, he must be able to justify that his decisions were made prudently.

Regarding the 12 mile limit, you should check out the legal obligations of the Ship's Captain in regards to the grounding/reefing of his Vessel.
The Captain is given authority to act, so that he may meet his obligations.

"If you dial," Iran said, eyes open and watching, "for greater venom, then I'll dial the same."

[ Parent ]
Reminds me (none / 0) (#79)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 12:13:46 AM EST

This reminds me of the two men who were coerced into consenting to a search on a Greyhound bus.  There was no probable cause, but the officers searched them and found cocaine.

Or, Amtrak's cooperation with the DEA - Amtrak provides passenger information to the DEA, who profiles passengers and decides who to coerce into consenting to a search.

It's unacceptable when people's rights are violated in this way, except when there is a clear risk if they're not searched (i.e. airplanes).

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]

Wait. (4.00 / 1) (#89)
by ghjm on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 01:36:39 PM EST

If it's okay on airplanes, why is it not okay on buses? Or cars, for that matter? Is it because with a bus or car you can probably only kill dozens of people, but with an airplane you can kill hundreds or thousands? If this is the reason, then exactly how many lives must be at stake before there is a "clear risk?"

-Graham

[ Parent ]

Risk (none / 0) (#97)
by CaptainSuperBoy on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 10:19:23 PM EST

Because there isn't a security risk on buses or cars.  When was the last time someone hijacked a bus and crashed it into a building?  Obviously if there was a risk of someone hijacking or blowing up a bus we'd have more security.. look at Israel, I think they have soldiers with machine guns on buses.

Yes, there is an amount of risk, at which point security becomes more important than liberties.  Yes, it's somewhere between a bus and a plane.  Don't be petty, of course it's not an exact number of people.  

If you actually believe what you're saying, what should we do?  Should we allow unrestricted air travel, to anyone with the money, with no concern for security?  Or, do we strive for ultimate security by completely restricting people's freedom to travel, whether it's in a car, bus, bicycle or walking?  I don't think you seriously believe it's an all or nothing deal.

--
jimmysquid.com - I take pictures.
[ Parent ]

Re: Risk (none / 0) (#98)
by ghjm on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 12:09:47 AM EST

What I believe is that if we start monkeying with the balance of power without clear objectives and standards in mind, we will get what we deserve.

OF COURSE we should allow unrestricted air travel to anyone not under suspicion of criminal activity. And, as you point out, who can afford a ticket - though why you bring this up is not clear to me; do you want socialized air travel?

Also, prior to 9/11 you could have said: When was the last time someone hijacked an airplane and crashed it into a building? Just because no-one has yet done so with a bus doesn't mean no-one ever will. A bus on the wrong hands could wreak havoc on the highways. Obviously it's not as dangerous as an airplane, but it is still at least moderately dangerous. It definitely has potential to be used as a weapon, perhaps in ways we haven't thought of yet.

Every argument you make about radical changes to the air transport system to improve "homeland security" also works, on a smaller scale, with cars and buses. But would it still be America if you couldn't just get in your car and go where you please?

-Graham

[ Parent ]

CODIS (5.00 / 1) (#64)
by rhyax on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 06:34:39 PM EST

It seems like a lot of the comments in this story act ilke this is a long way off, or something we need to start thinking about. it's really kinda past that time if you care. i mean, non-criminals don't have to submit to checks yet, but the databases are there already (in the US)

CODIS is the FBI's Combined DNA Index System, you can look at it if you want, there is some good info on that site. basically though it's a computer system, and some standardization rules that allow forensic labs across the nation that used to use non-standard primers and polymorphisms to identify people, to standardize. this allows results from a lab in new york to be compared to a lab in california (dna testing looks at specific points on the genome that are known to be divergent, but there are a lot of these points so different labs would use different areas) and to be uploaded to a state and national database.

not all states are participating yet i don't think, but with 9/11 i'm sure it won't be long.

It can't happen here - yes it did (5.00 / 6) (#69)
by Blarney on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 07:56:23 PM EST

I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and all the townies will be happy to tell you the story of the Ann Arbor Rapist. There was a serial rapist going around humping and beating women on the head - so they didn't really remember all too much about him besides him being black and male.

Naturally, the police took DNA samples from damn near every black man in town. Those who refused were threatened, fired from their jobs, and generally made unwelcome by the townsfolk. There have been a few lawsuits by the "donors" attempting to have their samples destroyed, but that's pretty much unenforceable by a judge or anybody, really - DNA can be divided into tiny vials, can be amplified by PCR - there's no way to know if the last copy has been destroyed or not except by the "word of honour" of your police. Now, our police aren't evil or anything, they are quite nice and friendly and hardly ever jail or beat people without a good reason, but they ARE police and will behave in the best interests of their ideal of law enforcement. Who knows how much DNA is still sitting in a lab fridge somewhere?

In the end, it turned out that the rapist was indeed a black man - but he didn't live in Ann Arbor. He lived in Ypsilanti, the next town over. All that mass collection of DNA was completely pointless.

Now, let me explain that this isn't some right-wing, Jerry Falwell racist town. A2 is a liberal college hippy-dippy place, a place where smoking marijuana is treated like a traffic ticket and not a crime (so long as you don't get caught on the University of Michigan campus itself - beware, Hash Bashers!). People here voted for Gore, for Nader, and for Geoffrey Fieger. Folks here march to Free Mumia, they volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, they go to Detroit and pick up the accumulated trash once a year, they support affirmative action very strongly and regularly bring the Cass Tech High School band up from the hood to play music for integration of higher education. We got Women's Studies, African-American Studies, got classes on gangsta' rap, got tolerance seminars and cultural awareness and all the P. C. nonsense you can handle.

But we love our peace and safety here. This is one of the safest towns there is and we'd like to keep it that way. All that anti-racist rhetoric blows away like a puff of smoke when no woman dares walk home from work at night. It can't happen here, no, no, it can't happen here.
It can't happen here, it can't happen here.
I'm telling you, my dear, that it can't happen here.
- Frank Zappa

how much? (3.50 / 2) (#71)
by /dev/trash on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 08:37:14 PM EST

How much data should the police be allowed to collect on citizens who are not direct suspects in a crime? Should governments be allowed to collect mass data on citizens at large regardless?

none

---
Updated 02/20/2004
New Site

So what? More information is better. (2.00 / 2) (#72)
by warkda rrior on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 08:40:51 PM EST

Let the government collect more information about you. Think about it in marketing terms: the government provides a service (police) and in order to deliver it in a better manner, it needs to know more about the target audience. By building DNA databases, the government can identify and track criminals better.

Oh goodie (4.50 / 2) (#74)
by Tatarigami on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 09:06:54 PM EST

Now we're all criminals. We get to spend the day proving our innocence by visibly not committing crimes.

And tomorrow we get to do it all over again...

[ Parent ]
You are so wrong... (5.00 / 1) (#78)
by speedfreak2K2 on Sun Jun 09, 2002 at 11:34:19 PM EST

What do you mean by target audience? Innocent people? Those who could do wrong, but don't? You sound like someone that believes in "guilty until proven innocent". How about the police come banging on your door for your DNA, access to your e-mail, your forced consent to their opening your mail before you get it? You wouldn't be cheering for the police to gather more information then, would you? Oh, and thinking about it in marketing terms only makes it worse.
You! Take that crown off your head, I'm kicking your ass!
[ Parent ]
On "voluntary" (4.50 / 2) (#80)
by auraslip on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 02:42:54 AM EST

Yes so the police "asked" for a "voluntary " sample. That sounds harmless, but think of the implications. They are implying that you are guilty untill you submit your DNA. Additionally, how will this help them catch anyone, it's voluntary right? Think ten years from now when you have to voluntarly submit you DNA for your drivers liscence, or to fly. Not so voluntary then. This should be taken more then anything, as a breaking of the DNA taboo. What scares me most is this voluntary thing, I fully believe that 10 years from now you'll have to submit DNA to get a drives liscenes, which makes it not so vouluntary, considering what life is like with out a liscense. Or maybe they'll make you submit to registar for high school, or before you fly aboard a plane. Thats what scares me
124
Samples won't be destroyed here (4.50 / 2) (#81)
by thebrix on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 04:19:53 AM EST

Here's the United Kingdom position. Quote in part:

7. Section 82 of the Act amends section 64 of PACE. It removes the obligation to destroy fingerprints and samples when the individual is cleared of the offence for which they were taken, or a decision is made not to prosecute. The prohibition on use of such prints or samples in evidence or in the investigation of other offences is also removed. It is replaced by a rule to the effect that any fingerprints or samples taken on suspicion of involvement in an offence can be retained. They can only be used for purposes related to the prevention and detection of crime, the investigation of any offence or the conduct of any prosecution (including crimes committed or prosecutions brought outside the UK). The term "use" includes retaining fingerprints and information derived from samples on databases that will allow speculative searches and disclosure to any person. Thus if a match is established between an individual, who has been cleared of an offence, and a subsequent crime scene the police are able to use this information in the investigation of the crime.

(PACE is the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, and sample is earlier defined to include DNA samples).

So there you have it, as plain as can be, although there had been several years of indecision about what to do on this issue.

It seems dangerously easy to misuse; I particularly dislike "any fingerprints or samples taken on suspicion of involvement in an offence can be retained" as "suspicion" could be used to get a DNA sample from anyone.

Public vigilance (5.00 / 1) (#82)
by karjala on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 04:54:51 AM EST

Personally, I don't understand why many people would agree to take part in this. In essence, the question that is going to be posed to them is this: "Do you agree to give us a sample of your DNA, which god knows how we're going to be storing and using it in the future, in exchange for you being deemed immediately innocent in this case of murder?" Of course, most people will not give their DNA samples, because they simply have *nothing to gain*.

If the case were otherwise, and there was an interest in most people for giving samples of their DNA for the purposes of investigation, then the entire process should be done under hard public vigilance. The data processing should happen in a shack built by a citizens' committee with no network connection. People should be checked when entering the shack, by members of the citizens' committee consisting of hackers, so that noone carries diskettes or radio equipment. Whatever happens in the shack should be recorded on videotape so that anyone can see what it was exactly that happened in there.

Politicians and police officers are just people, with self-serving purposes just like everyone else. They shouldn't be given absolute trust (see: Australian government spying to win elections [slashdot.org]) for how they handle the data. It's suspicious if they ask for absolute trust.

This seems silly (3.50 / 2) (#83)
by 0xA on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 06:17:47 AM EST

Why do the police think this will work? If I were the guy they're looking for I sure as hell wouldn't do it.

Let's assume the cops are smart enough to figure that out. So what are they actually doing? I think they are either trying to compile a list of people that refuse or populating a database for future use. Given the compiling a list theory, I doubt they would actually ever run the tests, they have to cost a couple hundered bucks each or so.

As par as the War On Privacy goes, I have to agree with the infamous comment made by Scott McNealy of Sun, it's over, we lost, get over it. There is so much inertia behind this as it is, people don't think twice about it. There are so many examples, even my employer does it. The information we collect is not up for sale and I do my best to protect it, we're not doing anything other than basic demographics with it.

I also have to seriously wonder just how useful any of the stuff collected by some of the retail places doing it really is. I recently provided GNC (health food store) with a pure nugget of demographic information. Last week a 60 year old black female who lives in South Carolina used a GNC discount card to buy some protien shakes, a tub of creatine and some vitamins in the Calgary store where she aparently singed up for the discount card. Being a white, 25 year old male I take a certain pleasure in getting away with this, all the time.

When we start talking about the police having this information it gets a little stickier. I don't really have an intellectual problem with the police knowing who and where I am. I don't break a lot of laws. On the other hand fi they had that information and managed to link me with some crime I didn't have anything to do with I'd be pissed. I don't want to have anything to do with the jerks if I can help it. It's an emotional thing, I don't want to deal with police, I want to have the ability to be hard to find if I need it. I can't imagine the circumstance where this would be important but it could happen. I think most people feel that way, there is a real trust problem with government and law enforcement out there.

I am amazed at the example of liquor stores presented by onyxruby, I've never seen anything like that. Having to provide that kind of information to buy booze seems insane. Of course I'm not really surprised either.

something similar is common in Spain (none / 0) (#85)
by fmartinez on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 08:55:31 AM EST

in Spain, we are required to have at all times the "DNI" (National Document of Identity), and in the process of making it, the police gets our fingerprints (and, in fact, the document has your own tummy fingerprint just in case). from this to taking DNA samples... there is a simple step.

ok i'll bite (none / 0) (#106)
by blablablastuff on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 11:47:39 PM EST

wtf is a "tummy print"?
there's nothing to print.
you can change it with a good 2 or 3 days of binging or starvation

[ Parent ]
Database pollution and misapplied technology (5.00 / 2) (#90)
by Znork on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 02:42:05 PM EST

This is just like using facial recognition software to ID people in airports; gross misapplication of technology.

DNA matching is not 100%. The larger your database of samples the higher chance of a false positives you get. Within a specific ethnic group with large enough databases you reach rediculous levels of likelyhood for false positives. DNA databases polluted with tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of irrelevant samples are pretty much guaranteed to produce 'matches' for every single sample submitted. Which of course places some unforunate individuals in the not very enviable position of having to defend themselves against a DNA test 'proving' they were at the crime scene... better have that airtight alibi... all the time.

Personally, I wouldnt submit a sample. The likelyhood of being the lucky 'winner' in a DNA database matchup is far better than winning the lottery. Not to mention that in this game you're gonna get a chance to get 'lucky' for every crime in the country for the rest of your life.

More Private than DNA (5.00 / 1) (#93)
by Lord of the Wasteland on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 05:22:21 PM EST

People complain of something like Echelon or computer software invading their privacy, but what can be more personal and private than your very DNA?

Lots of things. I share over 98% of my DNA with chimps. I leave the stuff lying around every time a flake of dandruff falls. It hasn't changed since the day I was born. My DNA is far less personal and private than many of my phone conversations.

DUI Checks (5.00 / 1) (#94)
by FatHed on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 06:06:41 PM EST

Along the same lines are road blocks set up by police in order to drug test the drivers. This should be illegal in the US, if only for the simple fact that we are innocent until proven guilty.
By setting up a road block and stopping everyone, the police are basically saying that somebody is guilty. We have no proof, but statisically, somebody is guilty.

I can't wait for Minority Report to come out.

Intelligence is a matter of opinion.
uih, who sayin they are guilty? (2.00 / 1) (#96)
by stfrn on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 09:09:30 PM EST

Road blocks don't say anyone is guilty. if you turn away from the roadblock, that shows you've got something to hide, and thats what they are looking for. The road block is you test you see... without tests there is no differnce between guilty and innocence.

"Man, I'm going to bed. I can't even insult people properly tonight." - Imperfect
What would you recomend to someone who doesn't like SPAM?
[ Parent ]
Yes.. but.. (5.00 / 1) (#101)
by mindstrm on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 11:34:38 AM EST

the point is, what if I simply don't want to bother with a roadblock and turn away? That is my RIGHT. Yet immediately I am chased down and stopped, detained, questioned, and tested for drugs, simply becuase I chose not to go through a police roadblock.

[ Parent ]
Maybe... (3.00 / 1) (#102)
by MikeyLikesIt on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 12:16:31 PM EST

Maybe what it will take is for an Innocent to be harrassed in this way, and then sue the local police accordingly.

I'm not going to be the one to do it - I have nothing to hide. Then again, neither do a lot of other people. The difference is that I want the drunks off the streets. I want the drugees out of my neighbourhood. If I need to go through an annual police checkpoint (if even THAT often), I really don't have a problem with it.

It takes maybe 2 minutes, and I feel safer for it.

[ Parent ]

Problem with it. (5.00 / 1) (#103)
by FatHed on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 01:00:41 PM EST

You may not have a problem with it, and I have nothing to hide either. But after you've been pulled over like 6 times for "Looking Suspicous", you may have a problem with it then. A road block doesn't say everyone is guilty. It says someone is guilty, and I'll agree with that to a certin extent, but just like terrorism, I do not want my life oppressed by our government because something might happen. I'll take the risks, America keeps trying to build the Pleasant Ville, keep the rif-raf off the streets, hide the trash, keep the walls white, and make laws that don't make sense to the less educated, and have loopholes for the educated.
Intelligence is a matter of opinion.
[ Parent ]
We all want criminals off the street... (5.00 / 1) (#104)
by hatshepsut on Tue Jun 11, 2002 at 01:09:39 PM EST

Or, I would be willing to bet that the huge majority do. Many of us, however, do not wanted to be treated like criminals in the process. No matter how politely requested, voluntary DNA samples (voluntary fingerprinting, whatever) will almost certainly end up being abused at some point BECAUSE IT IS CONVENIENT.

If DNA data is collected without prior agreement of it being destroyed after being used, it will be kept simply because it is easier to do so than to request another voluntary round of testing in the future.

I don't say this because I believe the police/government/whomever are evil, but because they are human and we all will tend to do what is easiest to do. If that means keeping information that has been provided, then that is what will be done, unless there has been an agreement not to do so.

That being said. If the police stated formally, in advance, that any DNA volunteered would be destroyed (as would all records of the testing, etc.) after being used for this one case, I would have fewer qualms about the process.

[ Parent ]

Perhaps. (none / 0) (#110)
by mindstrm on Thu Jun 13, 2002 at 10:47:43 AM EST

It is my feeling, though, that the best response for the people of this communit is for all of them to get together and say "Screw you"

If only a few dont' volunteer, regardless of why, they will be suspects.

If nobody volunteers, then it's a matter for the courts to decide.

[ Parent ]

The Identist Tree (none / 0) (#95)
by jnemo131 on Mon Jun 10, 2002 at 08:42:33 PM EST

Fingerprints are like a fruit tree. When a fingerprint is scanned, a fruit can fall, but another fruit will grow back in a year.

"I heard the droning in the shrine of the sea-monkey"
-The Pixies
DNA needed to solve crime, all men of town asked to supply sample | 117 comments (99 topical, 18 editorial, 0 hidden)
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