Dutch Chief Of Police Suggests National DNA-Database For All Citizens

from the bad-idea-of-the-day dept

The chief of police of the greater Rotterdam area has called for the creation of a DNA-database for all 16.6 million Dutch citizens. There is already a DNA-database in existence, but it only contains the DNA of 11,000 people since the policy is to only take DNA from people sentenced to prison for at least four years.

According to the chief of police the privacy of civilians is not as important as tracking down criminals, stating that society is "too careful" and that "if you want to make the world safer, there's a price to pay." In a statement released later he added that safety is partly paid for by reducing privacy.

Of course, one could argue that it's not the privacy-concerned people being "too careful," but that there are some people that are so obsessed with security that they're willing to have others pay the price in giving up their privacy. Such a database will not prevent crime, since most crimes don't originate from rational risk-calculation. Any errors in the database could also have disastrous effects on people's lives in the case of a mistaken identity for instance, not to mention the implications of potential function creep. It really is a big price to pay for a small piece of security in one of the safest places in the world.

After a few hours of outrage from civilians and politicians, the Dutch Ministry of Justice and Security released a statement that they do not support the plan and stated that it was not the first time such ideas have been suggested. It is probably not the last time, either.



Reader Comments (rss)

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  1.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 8:50am

    The plight of the legume...

    "The chief of police of the greater Rotterdam area has called for the creation of a DNA-database for all 16.6 million Dutch citizens."

    The real concern is a certain Dr. Volesku and his wayward experiments on genetic modification in children. Some kid named Julian Delphiki told me all about it over lunch....

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2011 @ 8:52am

    How exactly is DNA in any way private since people regularly leave traces of their DNA anywhere they go? And even if it won't help in preventing crime, it will help in solving it, provided the information is accurate. This isn't the best thought-out article.

     

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  3.  
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    Zauber Paracelsus (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 8:52am

    I should point out that DNA recognition technology is not as foolproof as it is depicted in crime dramas like CSI and Law & Order. Running DNA tests is also expensive, from what I heard.

     

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  4.  
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    Jes Lookin, Mar 15th, 2011 @ 8:53am

    That's the ticket...

    Hey... a whole country of patsies available for planted evidence...

     

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  5.  
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    Remco (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 8:55am

    "Nothing to hide"

    The chief of police, like so many before him, used the infamous "Nothing To Hide" argument when suggesting the national DNA-database.

     

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  6.  
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    Lisa Westveld (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 8:58am

    Well, about all other citizens in the Netherlands just laughed in his face for making such a stupid remark! There's absolutely no support for this plan! This Chief of Police made himself look real stupid and it wouldn't surprise me if he'll have to look for a different job in the near future. Certain politicians are already considering him to be unwanted...

     

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  7.  
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    LumpyDog (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 9:03am

    Re:

    By your logic phone calls shouldn't be private either, since they're broadcast through the air surrounding us all.

     

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  8.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 9:18am

    Alternative suggestion

    "if you want to make the world safer, there's a price to pay."
    Could we maybe start with making the world less stupid instead? I might be willing to pay the price for that, unlike "safety".

     

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  9.  
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    redwall_hp (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 9:21am

    Re: Re:

    And you leave your fingerprints everywhere, so they're not private either, right?

     

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  10.  
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    blah, Mar 15th, 2011 @ 9:22am

    Price is too high, screw safety

    "if you want to make the world safer, there's a price to pay."

    Screw that, "Safety Third" FTW!

     

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  11.  
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    David, Mar 15th, 2011 @ 9:34am

    Oooh, can I be the first to Quote Ben Franklin?

    "They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety."

    --Ben Franklin

    I include privacy in liberty...

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2011 @ 9:36am

    Re:

    How exactly is DNA in any way private since people regularly leave traces of their DNA anywhere they go? And even if it won't help in preventing crime, it will help in solving it, provided the information is accurate.

    I suggest that you read those two sentences back to back as many times as necessary until you realize that the first implies that samples of DNA are readily to anyone/everyone with the means to harvest them, and that therefore the second's qualifying clause ("provided the information is accurate") is clearly inapplicable to the real world.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2011 @ 9:38am

    Re: Alternative suggestion

    this guy should personally refresh the tree of liberty

     

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  14.  
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    New Mexico Mark, Mar 15th, 2011 @ 10:02am

    Gattaca?

    I think some folks who saw that movie didn't realize that the world portrayed in the movie "Gattaca" was not the blueprint for a perfect society.

     

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  15.  
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    ChimpBush McHitlerBurton, Mar 15th, 2011 @ 10:04am

    Re: The plight of the legume...

    Ha! But seriously...

    The real concern I see is the very real possibility for the planting of evidence if the State has a sample of everyone's DNA.

    As is stands now, if I've never been to the crime scene in my life, there is an infinitesimal chance that my DNA will be be found there. If the State has my DNA in a little test tube somewhere, that chance goes up exponentially.

    Sure, call me a conspiracy theorist. The problem for you is that conspiracies are not a theory; they exist. It would be foolish to posit that this could never happen. It could, and it would eventually, and then God only knows how many times after that.

    I'm a fan of collecting the DNA of *violent* criminals who have been convicted of *violent* crimes, but the wholesale collection of this kind of data from the general public just gives me the willies.

    Jesus, we already know that we've sent hundreds if not thousands of innocent people to prison for life, or worse, to their deaths over less exacting evidence. Imagine the willingness of a jury to convict when the DNA of the accused is put up for offer as 'evidence'!!

    I say let my DNA get to the crime scene of its own accord. It doesn't need any help from 'Law Enforcement'.

    CBMHB

     

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  16.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 10:08am

    Re: Re: The plight of the legume...

    Look, this is REALLY simple. The only question that needs to be asked is: What reasonable benefit correlative to the scale of collection are you hoping to achieve?

    The only honest answer to that question is "none". This isn't a reasonable request because there won't be any relative benefit. What if we collect DNA on 20 million people and catch 30 more violent criminals? Worth it? Of course it isn't. The time and money spent on the collection of DNA would be better spent on training and procedures that streamline and shore up investigative procedure.

    The problem is that these people know all of this. So, I guess I'll join you in fashioning my own tinfoil hat, because my next question is going to be if they know that there is a minimal benefit to actual policing by DNA collection, what is their actual purpose?

     

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  17.  
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    Getefix, Mar 15th, 2011 @ 10:18am

    Re: Re: Re: The plight of the legume...

    I can think of a major benefit -- it would make it easy to see which areas of a country had significant levels of environmental pollutants. If you could made a map of known genetic predisposition for various illnesses and then matched that map against actual cases it would likely turn up areas of significant environmental toxins (where actual cases were higher than genetic disposition would account for).

     

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  18.  
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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 10:19am

    You can really overlook the obvious, can't you?

    How is anyone's DNA private, since people leave traces everywhere they go? It's actually a very simple answer - all of that DNA has no recorded correlation to any single individual, and until it does, as this idiot police chief suggested, there is all the privacy you need. How you overlooked that simple fact is beyond comprehension.

     

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  19.  
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    The Devil's Coachman (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 10:21am

    Re:

    But, but......it's for the children! It's against terrorism! It will make life so........utopian.

     

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  20.  
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    P3T3R5ON (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 10:37am

    keep pushing

    They will just keep pushing and pushing until the only privacy you have is in your head... then they will take that too...

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2011 @ 10:48am

    Re: The plight of the legume...

    YOU LEAVE BEAN OUT OF THIS!

     

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  22.  
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    PrometheeFeu (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 11:47am

    OK, first of all, you can't really plant evidence based upon a DNA database. They don't store a little blood sample. What they do is test for a number of genetic markers (which at least for now are not known to correlate with any expressed traits) and then they store the absence or presence of each marker in a database. In order to plant evidence based upon that database, they would have to genetically engineer something to match the same markers. That's not easy to do which means there would be a paper trail a mile long. At which point, you could during your trial request that some non-stored markers also be tested to exonerate you.

    In all honesty, I don't see the privacy implications. This can actually only be used for the purposes of identifying you. Yes, there is the remote chance that in the future the selected markers will end up being indicative of some disease we want to keep private, but that seems to be a relatively small risk. The cost of collecting and testing DNA from the environment makes it impractical to implement surveillance on a large scale. So honestly, I am not sure how the government could use such a system in any sort of a way that would expose anything I might want to keep quiet unless it actually was something bad. If someone presents a viable scenario where actual privacy might be violated, I would be very interested.

     

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  23.  
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    Qabal (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 12:04pm

    Paranoia...?

    I’m surprised at the knee-jerk reaction to this article. I expect this forum to be a bit more nuanced when discussing subjects like this… especially when the crux of this argument is around the freedom of information. I can't help but think the question, and many other similar ones, will guide the next century and our definitions of ethical management, social responsibility, privacy, and utilization of technology to solve currently unsolvable issues. We might as well talk about it now.

    Personally, I question the efficacy of a nation DNA database to solve crimes… but I suspect it would be a neutral to a slight positive impact in identifying previously anonymous criminals (although I think it would do wonders for identifying John/Jane Does). Assuming that no inviolate freedoms were abused, the act of identifying and addressing law breakers with some level of increased precision is a good thing. Further, data is useful. Non-anonymous data is even more useful. A comprehensive DNA database, tied to real world performance data (wage income, medical records, education history, employment, criminal participation) concievably opens up a whole new world of analysis to benefit any science defined by genetics or social dynamics.

    Like virtually all scientific research, these tools and data can be used in fashions which the creators never anticipate. Many circumstances would lead to outcomes which are negative, and worst case scenarios ('the government will frame me!') are easy to identify and have an emotional argument which often can’t be answered by rational ones. However, there needs to be a rational argument divested of those challenges. Yes. It concerns me the government (any government!) would have this information. But the government already maintains enormous databases of similarly valid personally identifying information (PII). Most governments are already harvesting DNA from at least one class of the population… so the issue (in general) isn’t a problem with harvesting DNA for cross reference and analysis, but that it is widespread and without a mechanism to opt out.

    I don’t dispute there are some very real forseeable consequences: It’s very likely the uninformed will attempt to use this information to pass legislation that is stupid… but that’s going to happen no matter what. The best we can hope for is better and more accurate information to make stupid, ill informed decisions from.

    It’s conceivable this information could be used for eugenic experimentation. So can your gross physical attributes and birth records. Which are collected by virtually every civilized nation in the world.

    The chance the government (or an ‘independent’ employee) can frame you does increase. Slightly. Considering that I can collect the DNA for virtually anyone I have personal access to it’s not horribly challenging to plant that kind of evidence if you’re motivated. And as Assange has proven, if they want you they’ll get you. Pro tip: the real world doesn’t work like Hollywood. Stop watching so much ‘Chuck’ and find a reason that wouldn’t appeal to Glenn Beck.

    Private companies would work to use this information to drive their bottom line in any way they can. And they should. However, and this is a critical point, one of the roles of government is to facilitate improvements in commerce; and conversely to protect consumer rights. While there are sometimes egregious examples of governments failing to do this, I stipulate that most ‘civilized’ countries do a remarkably good job at this. (If you disagree, I’d be happy to have a side bar conversation discussing the strides which have occurred over the previous century).

    The question is why are some of this audience so violently against the collection of DNA? I’m not going to trot out the venerable cliché, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear,” we all know it’s a logical fallacy. However, what other consequences can you envision that would outweigh the conceivable benefits of a genuine database containing the minutae of the human genome? Don’t get me wrong, there are concerns and risks. They are inherent to any technological advance and the law of unintended consequences virtually guarantees there will be results no one could ever have anticipated.

    However, when you open Pandora’s box there’s no going back. We have the capacity. There are valid reasons to do this work (even if the stated one isn’t probably the best). This means we’re going to get there eventually. To paraphrase Mike, information is both valuable and has a desire to be ‘free’. Efforts to pretend that this information somehow qualifies as ‘magic’ and ‘inviolate’ are self delusional, if not outright Luddish.

     

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  24.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2011 @ 12:05pm

    Re:

    first of all, the only reason this suggestion exists is because the technology has made it easy and possible.

    if people could be trusted, we wouldn't need any laws


    these suggestions need to be stopped in their tracks because we do not know what future governments will decide
    what is right and wrong. Every day I hear some stupid crap coming out of politician pie holes about how things humans have done since the beginning of civilization are now somehow bad.



    why should law enforcement be made easy? these people have the power to put you away for life or even take it away.

    Innocent or not, why should that be easy??

     

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  25.  
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    cabal (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 12:56pm

    Re: The plight of the legume...

    Interesting card to play, old bean.

     

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  26.  
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    Bas Grasmayer (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 3:03pm

    Re:

    I was wondering about that actually. I really think people should get fired over proposing such things. It's not the first time some high-placed police employee or security agent has made remarks like this and they usually just get away with it (as far as I know anyway).

     

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  27.  
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    angal2 (profile), Mar 15th, 2011 @ 3:51pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: The plight of the legume...

    I can see a major downside in this in that health insurance companies could use that data to raise deductibles on certain procedures/medicines in an area or to claim pre-existing conditions on a subset of the population and refuse to pay for treatment altogether.

     

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  28.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 2:33am

    Re:

    Actually it is easier than you think to fabricate DNA for the sole purpose of falsely implicating someone else. All it takes is for some bright criminal (thankfully the whole premise of most law enforcement is that criminals are NOT bright) to
    * collect some DNA from some unsuspecting person [skin particles, saliva, hair folicles etc]
    * warm em up to body temp and feed em lots of nutrients
    * place in normal atomiser
    * spray around crime scene thus contaminating EVERYTHING! and also overiding there own traces let since that DNA they planted is more prevalent

    I wonder if the Police chief would like that of his DNA, and unless he has a very very good alibi of more than family or 1-2 witness's. The burden of proof is on the patsy.

    A gold star to anyone who can point towards the case in America where this actually happened! hint.. try PACER

     

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  29.  
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    G Thompson (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 2:39am

    Brilliantly stated.

    Though I don't watch )or know) 'chuck" I do watch CSI, Bones, et.al.. though when it comes to the Investigative, Forensic, analysis, interview, interogatory parts and of course the 30minute DNA testing.. well.. "I watch it for the LOLS"

     

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  30.  
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    Not an Electronic Rodent (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 2:46am

    Re: Paranoia...?

    one of the roles of government is to facilitate improvements in commerce; and conversely to protect consumer rights.
    It's what? No the government's role is to create a stable structure in which commerce can exist, not to have anything to do with commerce itself and its role is not to protect consumer rights, but to protect all the rights of its citizens without any prejudice to a subset.
    Private companies would work to use this information to drive their bottom line in any way they can. And they should.
    No, they really shouldn't. Not without the permission of everyone involved and certainly not with the help of the government without permission.
    However, what other consequences can you envision that would outweigh the conceivable benefits of a genuine database containing the minutae of the human genome?
    Every good usage I can think of for such a database doesn't involve knowing who the person you are studying is. Every usage I can think of for knowing who a person is is subject to abuse and history is replete with governments and private companies abusing any kind of identifying data. I choose not to give them another weapon against me thank you they are already significantly and sufficiently well armed.

     

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  31.  
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    cabal (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 8:25am

    Re: Re: Paranoia...?

    "It's what? No the government's role is to create a stable structure in which commerce can exist, not to have anything to do with commerce itself"

    -- Really? I didn't realize we were discussing the Aristotlian ideal of a government, or that I'd suddenly been transported to an Adam Smith fantasy 'laissez faire' land. The US government (and most others) specifically regulates taxes, imposes tariffs, trade restrictions and a number of other efforts in order to create a positive advantage for national commerce. When examined at thier core, most laws provide benefits explicitly for commerce. Heck, supporting commerce is in article 1 of NASA's charter.

    "and its role is not to protect consumer rights, but to protect all the rights of its citizens without any prejudice to a subset."

    Ahh. My mistake. I guess institutions like the FDA, FCC, OSHA, FAA don't exist to regulate the relationship between consumers and providers. And apparently some citizens are not consumers, so I guess they would be a 'prejudiced subset'. Modern governments exist to define thier own limits and the relationship between consumption and commerce. Everything else is window dressing.

    "No, they really shouldn't. Not without the permission of everyone involved and certainly not with the help of the government without permission."


    It's a good thing the government doesn't award research contracts and publish results. Or publish census data, or publish resources or economic reports or resource or labor statistics or national comparisons or reports on how the laws of other countries are impacting the sale of our intellectual property. By the way, many of those things use YOUR data (at the very least in aggregate form). Without your explicit permission. Would it be so unreasonable to consider this data would be accessible with at least the same level of controls as national tax data (which can be published in 'anonymous' groups small enough to identify individuals)? At no point did I suggest willy nilly letting a national database of genetic information be posted on teh web for any and all to utilize. Any effort to imply so is disingenous at best.

    "Every good usage I can think of for such a database doesn't involve knowing who the person you are studying is."

    Well, it's probably a good thing you're not in charge of research and development. But just because you can't think of a good reason doesn't mean there aren't any. Many of our most profound innovations are derived from someone else identifying uses for something someone else discovered and determined to be 'useless'.

    "I choose not to give them another weapon against me thank you they are already significantly and sufficiently well armed."


    Ok. So you have the 'fear'. But, like I said in my post "what other consequences can you envision that would outweigh the conceivable benefits of a genuine database containing the minutae of the human genome?" I'm not asking if you have an uneasy feeling in your gut. Your gut is full of excrement. You can choose to listen, but the advice typically stinks.

    I seriously don't understand the resistance to this. It strikes me as similar to the 'fear' of a national ID plan [which typically is heralded by calls of 'the number of the beast!' or 'One World government'!]. I want to understand... but it strikes me as a Tofflerian 'Future Shock' evaluation rather than a rational stance, full of emotional but semantically null arguments that illustrate an fear of change.

     

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  32.  
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    PrometheeFeu (profile), Mar 16th, 2011 @ 2:30pm

    Re: Re:

    Well, except bright criminals can do that whether the government has a DNA database or not. Today, it just means the criminal in question needs a competent lawyer who will request a DNA test. The DNA test comes back and the criminal goes free. And you are right, today if the point is to frame someone specific, you need to plant enough evidence to have the police run a DNA test on that person. But honestly, I don't think that is significantly harder than cultivating the DNA somewhere without getting caught.

     

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