DNA databases are coming, like it or not

I’m sympathetic to the idea of a compulsory DNA database, but willing to be swayed. Neil has an interesting post on the problems of the current system, so I’ll stick to the theoretical arguments. Here’s how it seems to me:


Crime. A national database would obviously help a massive amount in solving crimes.

This is easily enough of an advantage for me to take the idea seriously.


Practical – how do you actually get DNA samples from the entire population?

Technological – how do you create a database that big, and keep it secure?

Abuse – what if Future Evil Government want to use it for Evil Purposes? What if Not So Evil Government agree to let insurance companies access the data?

I think the practical and technological problems could, in theory, be solved. For example, if an open-source system were used it’d be in everyone’s best interests to make it as secure as possible. This might take some doing convincing – governments have a habit of awarding billion-pound contracts to IT firms who, unsurprisingly, make everything proprietary – but, still, it’s possible.

Liberty, interestingly, don’t really go with the ‘freedom’ angle I expected. They’re much more concerned about abuse, and this certainly seems to be the major issue. I’m personally happy for the police to have access to my DNA profile – I don’t see what harm this could actually do – but I’m not so sure about insurance companies / others. I can’t think of a way to ensure this doesn’t happen. But, then, aren’t there many laws like this? Evil Government would just do what they wanted anyway, wouldn’t they?

What else is there?

Errors – what if a mistake means the wrong person is arrested?

I’m not particularly worried about this. Re-testing of the individual involved should prove their innocence, and, again in theory, it’s entirely possible that such errors could be kept to a minimum.

Other than the abuse problem, it’s easy to envisage a system that doesn’t suffer from these flaws. But I get the feeling that even if all the problems were solved, Liberty etc. wouldn’t like it. And that’s what interests me. What’s wrong with the Perfect Theoretical Database? I imagine it would involve some mention of ‘civil liberties’, and I want to understand exactly what this argument involves. The BBC feedback site is full of raving…ravers…and there’s little enlightenment to be found. Is it privacy? Because I don’t see why anybody would object to a system in which only the police can access your details, if your DNA turns up a match. What exactly is it that people don’t like? Being forced to do something?

Having said all this, I suspect people are going to have to adapt to their DNA profile being ‘out there’. Once technology reaches the point where my DNA can be scanned to detect increased risks of future medical problems, I’m in. If this means my profile has to be stored in computerised medical records, where any dirty hacker could potentially snag it, so be it. And what if insurance companies start offering free DNA scans for potential heart problems, say, on the basis that you allow your policy to be adapted accordingly? It’s going to come, it’s just a question of how it’s managed. Do I trust private databases more than a state-run system? I doubt future generations are going to give two hoots about their ‘private’ information being accessible to the world – it’s beneficial far more often than otherwise, if you ask me – but the transitory period could get tricky.