Tags: Law Enforcement | privacy | civil | liberties

A DNA Bank Could Enhance Nation's Safety, Security  



By Wednesday, 12 June 2019 12:51 PM Current | Bio | Archive

A woman who had been in a vegetative state for decades recently delivered a baby. Nursing home staffers had not noticed she was pregnant, and were blindsided.

Investigators asked all male employees at the nursing home to provide DNA samples. The alleged perpetrator was caught after he provided DNA under protest. A court ordered him to do so, despite his insistence that his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was being violated,

Earlier, the discovery and arrest of a man charged with mailing bombs to leading Democrats happened because the FBI lab found DNA samples on one of the bombs and matched them with his DNA.

The FBI lucked out, since the defendant's DNA was on file thanks to previous encounters with law enforcement.

Effective law enforcement in these cases hinged on the limited number of suspects in the nursing home, and on the coincidence that the apparent bomber's DNA was already in a data bank.

The government does not have DNA samples for most Americans, and the person who sent the bombs could well have been a member of this overwhelming majority. But the case suggests a measure that would eliminate this danger as well as provide a number of other benefits.

We need to enact a law requiring all residents, and all visitors from foreign countries, to contribute a DNA sample to a government data bank.

Such a DNA bank would be expensive, but could be well worth the money. Public authorities no longer would have to depend on good luck in matching DNA from a crime with the responsible party or parties.

Many rape kits, obtained from women filing sexual assault complaints, remain in police files without ever having been examined. Testing the kits is expensive. When government only has DNA for a few potential rapists testing these kits may be an inefficient use of scarce police resources.. If everyone's DNA was on file, testing all kits immediately could be cost effective.

Governments spend considerable money aiding single women who don't receive child support from the fathers of their children. Sometimes it's not clear, even to the child's mother, who the father actually is.

A universal DNA bank would make it easier to track down fathers and force them to support their progeny. Knowing this could happen might deter some men from siring children irresponsibly in the first place.

One can imagine the howls of protest any proposal to require everyone to register their DNA will evoke among civil liberties enthusiasts, left, right, and libertarian. They will claim that it is arbitrary to demand DNA from people for whom there is no probable cause to believe they have committed a crime.

This objection would certainly make sense if only selected individuals were arbitrarily required to furnish DNA. But requiring DNA from everyone would be a completely different matter. There is no probable cause requirement before people can be subjected to intensive and sometimes intrusive TSA checks before boarding airliners.

No one is selected arbitrarily when everyone is required to do it.

Critics might also object that requiring deposit of DNA would reduce people's privacy.

Indeed, it would. However there is privacy and there is privacy.

Some kinds of privacy may deserve protection, but privacy in ones DNA is probably not worth protecting, considering the benefits of creating a national DNA bank and its limited downside.

One real danger of a DNA bank is that data breeches might enable employers to refuse to hire people whose DNA predicts high medical costs. However this is just one more argument in favor of a tax-funded universal health insurance system in which an applicant's bad health would no longer be something employers would want to discriminate against.

Better law enforcement, rape followup, holding fathers responsible for supporting their children, and improved medical care thanks to data-mining of the DNA by medical experts would all be generally beneficial. And losing privacy in their DNA will not reduce people's freedom to engage in legal behavior.

It should also be noted that, although a universal DNA registry would help law enforcement track down criminals, no punishment could be inflicted on anybody unless he or she is convicted by a jury convinced of guilt beyond any reasonable doubt. In the absence of additional evidence, nobody is likely to be convicted solely on the basis of a DNA match.

Paul F. deLespinasse is Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Computer Science at Adrian College. He received his Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins University in 1966, and has been a National Merit Scholar, an NDEA Fellow, a Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and a Fellow in Law and Political Science at the Harvard Law School. His college textbook, "Thinking About Politics: American Government in Associational Perspective," was published in 1981 and his most recent book is "Beyond Capitalism: A Classless Society With (Mostly) Free Markets." His columns have appeared in newspapers in Michigan, Oregon, and a number of other states. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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We need a law requiring all residents, and all visitors from foreign countries, to contribute a DNA sample to a government data bank. A DNA bank would be expensive, but could be well worth the money. Public authorities no longer would have to depend on good luck.
privacy, civil, liberties
Wednesday, 12 June 2019 12:51 PM
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