Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Torquemada's DNA database

The Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2010 published by Dermot Torquemada Ahern seeks to establish a national DNA database. This is worrying for a number of reasons.

Minister Ahern had this to say:
The combination of these two major sources of samples (suspects and convicted persons) will ensure that, within a short time, a significant proportion of the criminal community will have their samples on the database. It is my hope that this fact would, of itself, act as a deterrent for some.
Bear in mind that this is the minister who recently inflicted upon us some shamefully idiotic blasphemy legislation. Note that "suspects" are a source of samples. You do not have to be convicted of anything for your DNA to end up on this database. It will include the DNA of entirely innocent people. All you have to do is be arrested. You might think that that's not a worry for a law-abiding citizen, but the experience in the UK shows that the police have been making arrests simply in order to get DNA samples.

The minister says that "a significant proportion of the criminal community will have their samples on the database" but it needs to be clear that a significant proportion of the innocent community will be on it too.

In fact, many innocent children have ended up with their DNA on the UK database and are trying to get it removed. The evidence on which the UK government bases its DNA retention policies has been questioned by many reputable agencies, including the Jill Dando Institute for Crime Science and Liberty. Genewatch UK has outlined a number of concerns about the UK's DNA retention system. It was clear As early as 2006 that the database was wide open to abuse.

This is not just a left-liberal concern about civil liberties and related weakness on crime. The Daily Telegraph, not known for its pinko tendencies, is equally appalled by the DNA database.

Minister Torquemada might argue that the innocent have nothing to fear - bear in mind that this is the same government (the Fianna Failure part of it, anyway) that wants to hold an inquiry into the banking scandal in private - but it's evident from the UK experience that the innocent have a great deal to fear.

Should we be concerned about the experience in the UK? Yes: to suggest otherwise would be remiss, and would surely place in this government a level of trust that they simply don't deserve. The blasphemy laws don't inspire confidence in their ability to legislate competently (even after their protracted failure to make sense of our libel laws was finally addressed we got the blasphemy idiocy), neither does their cackhanded attempt to deal with the issue of statutory rape and the age of consent.

The ability of public agencies (the HSE, and again, and again, and again, the Irish Blood Transfusion Services Board, the Comptroller and Auditor General, and Bord Gáis) to lose personal data isn't encouraging.

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is reviewing this Bill: good.

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