Monday, October 24, 2005

DNA database fears

UK: IN the relatively short period of time since it was discovered, DNA fingerprinting has become one of the most powerful weapons in the armoury of the police.

It can clear the innocent and identify the guilty, even if decades have passed since an offence was committed. Without it, criminals like Thomas Galloway, who raped and killed pensioner Emily Mutch in 1996 but who was only convicted after DNA tests in 1999, would still be free.

It is not surprising that ministers now want to broaden its use by creating a national DNA database. If they had such a system, police would undoubtedly catch more rapists and murderers, as well as those who commit less serious crimes. If used wisely, it could help protect children from criminals like Ian Huntley, who may have been identified much earlier as the dangerous sexual predator we now know him to be if police had kept and shared the information they held on him.

There are, however, potential problems. Ministers are proposing that DNA data should be taken from all those arrested or detained on suspicion of committing a crime for which they could be imprisoned, even if they are never convicted. Essentially, it means innocent people will have very personal information kept on police files. [ Also innocent people can be framed for crimes more easily.]

The Information Commissioner believes the rights of the few will be trampled in our zeal for justice. In a letter seen by The Herald, the commissioner's office warns: "This will result in real and ongoing intrusion into the private lives of innocent people." [And possibly ongoing blame and convictions?]

GeneWatch UK, the policy research group, is similarly concerned. It warns that the DNA database in England and Wales, which was introduced in 2003 - the year after Ian Huntley killed Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman - contains DNA profiles of one-third of all black men in the two countries, compared to just 8% of white.

Ethnic minorities are more likely than the white population to be stopped by police, to be arrested, and so to have their genetic fingerprints copied and stored - even if they are not subsequently charged with a crime. It is not in itself a sign of discrimination, but an illustration of wider problems in our criminal justice system and in our society. The concern minority groups may feel about the database must be taken into consideration.

There are also concerns that DNA fingerprinting may not be as infallible as we would like to believe.

There are instances when convictions based on DNA evidence have later been overturned and, although few, they should still be enough to discourage over-reliance on genetic profiling. They include the case of Brian Kelly, a policeman who served a six-year prison sentence for rape, only to have his conviction overturned after his release when it was found that crucial DNA evidence may have been contaminated. That wrongful conviction was blamed on the less-than-perfect methods of the early days of DNA fingerprinting. Yet the technique is still relatively young.

A national DNA database could prove invaluable to our police forces. Are we, as a society, willing to sacrifice some personal privacy in order to achieve this? Many will feel that the innocent have nothing to fear and much to gain from the measure in terms of public safety. It is vital there is a proper debate about this. Ministers must consider all the arguments very carefully. The Information Commissioner's letter and the concerns of GeneWatch UK are therefore to be welcomed. Hopefully, they will encourage the serious public consideration of this issue so that the new database wins the confidence of the country as a whole.

UK Herald Editorial posted 24 October 05


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He had a suspect that he wanted to find guilty based on the chances of a spouse killing a spouse which were greater in anycase, at least more likely than that of a stranger.

First Grabs To Control Our DNA
A small company in Australia has been subjected to gross denials of rights after DNA database technology was stolen from it's company. This one year saga has spawned them to form a new approach to projects of importance to all people.

Worries over DNA and racial profiling
UK: Black men are four times more likely than White men to be on the national DNA database and there is growing concern about racial profiling in criminal investigations.

Lab's Errors Force Review of 150 Virginia DNA Cases
US: WASHINGTON, - A sharply critical independent audit found that Virginia's nationally recognized central crime laboratory had botched DNA tests in a leading capital murder case. The findings prompted Gov. Mark Warner to order a review of the lab's handling of testing in 150 other cases as well.

Witch-hunt targets scientists
QLD: SCIENTISTS at the John Tonge Centre are being threatened with jail in the wake of a government hunt for the source of leaks highlighting serious problems in the forensic laboratories.

Fresh swipe at DNA labs
Scientist Kris Bentley, whose departure yesterday follows that of forensic biologist Deanna Belzer after concerns about "inaccurate" DNA results and unvalidated equipment, issued a scathing resignation letter leaked to The Courier-Mail.

DNA leads 'CSI' cold-case squad to first arrest?
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DNA fingerprinting 'no longer foolproof'...
The genetic profiles held by police for criminal investigations are not sophisticated enough to prevent false identifications, according to the father of DNA fingerprinting.

PROFESSOR BARRY BOETTCHER: Now, there should be a law enacted within Queensland so that when cases come up like this they can be brought to attention and if an appropriate authority such as a judge of your Supreme Court considers that it merits further inquiry, an inquiry be ordered.

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Fear-mongering over convicts sperm bank donations
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Database clears up crimes?
NSW Police Minister John Watkins said at the launch of a Sydney conference of international forensic experts meeting to mark 100 years of fingerprinting in NSW. He said the collection of DNA from prisoners and suspects in NSW during the past two years had led to more than 5,400 matches on the forensic database.

A Question of Innocence
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The New South Wales Government says advances in crime solving technology are helping the progress of hundreds of police investigations.

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Why draconian laws? What about the re-trial by media that goes along with it? Twice shy?

The NSW government has finally appointed somebody (Justice John Nader) to head up its Innocence Panel and has produced leaflets and forms for people convicted of serious crimes (eg murder) to apply for DNA testing if they believe it may help prove their innocence. You can get the info by phoning 1300 881 717 or writing to the panel at GPO Box 45 Sydney NSW 2001.

Is the Westminster System flawed?
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Prisoners can prove innocence for $20
Les Kennedy Daily Telegraph reported today that" Prisoners who believe that DNA will prove they were wrongly convicted will have the chance to prove their innocence for a mere $20 administration fee. The move comes 20 months after NSW inmates were asked to provide DNA for comparison with a databank of DNA from unsolved crime scenes for possible convictions.

DNA yours or mine?
Now they have isolated two genes that they say tells you if you're more likely to be depressed. What does that mean? It could mean that you should stay in jail because you are more likely than not to continue your offending behaviour according to a Department of Corrective Services Forensic Psychiatrist.

DNA = Do Not Assume - DNA Controversies!
The national DNA database of all known offenders proposed by Prime Minister Tony Blair could mean that innocent people will be accused of crimes they did not commit.

DNA Evidence of Bipartisanship
Last week the U.S. Congress passed the Justice for All Act, which includes provisions of the Innocence Protection Act. As of this posting, the legislation has not yet been signed by President Bush. Attached is an analysis of the legislation prepared by the Justice Project.