Thursday, 12 November 2009

Why Libertarians should oppose the DNA database

Of course Libertarians should oppose a DNA database on a point of principle, but it is difficult to argue the practical costs to people who use the "if you've nothing to hide" argument. Now personally, I think anyone who uses that argument should be locked up for 42 days, but it is a common view. It is the line taken by the editorials of the two best-selling papers in the UK, for example and one therefore you must engage with.

The ID card fundamentally changes the relationship between the state and the citizen, because it forces you to account for your presence anywhere. The police can ask you for your papers, without having to give a reason. This is even more so for those on the DNA database: if your DNA is at any crime scene (a few cells will suffice) then it is you who must prove your innocence - or an innocent explanation for your DNA's presence.

This will create 2 classes of citizen in the eyes of the legal system. Those who are on the DNA database, who have to prove their innocence, and those who aren't who remain innocent until proven Guilty. But DNA can "prove innocence" they say, to which I point out that DNA evidence is not necessary for a prosecution. As the database grows larger, the likelihood of false positives increases, and its utility diminishes. With CRB checks proliferating, we are in danger of eroding the principle of criminals "paying ones debt to society", when because being convicted of anything increases the cost of insurance, housing, reduces the likelihood of finding work, and being under constant suspicion, actively mitigates against rehabilitation.

Whilst the DNA technology is impressive, do you honestly believe that it is infallible or open to manipulation by zealous law enforcement personel? As ever more reliance is put upon DNA to secure convictions, it will not be long before we discover cases where DNA evidence is deliberately manipulated. Ask anyone who works with DNA how easy that would be.

So it's not just convicted people: Anyone can find themselves on the DNA database. Anyone. Just look at a copper funny, and you're a second-class citizen. The DNA database fundamentally undermines the principle of equality before the law and the presumption of innocence - for everyone, not just those with something to hide.


The Great Simpleton said...

As well as allowing a lazy police (force) service to ignore crime prevention and rely on detection.

Simon Jester said...

The response to people who use the "if you've got nothing to hide..." argument is to ask them whether they have curtains in their home.

Anonymous said...

No one's mentioning the potentially horrific combination of a DNA database, known weak IT security, and an opt-out organ donation system?

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