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.

Filed Under: dna, netherlands, privacy

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  1. icon
    Qabal (profile), 15 Mar 2011 @ 12:04pm


    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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