National DNA Database, Why Not?

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  • National DNA Database, Why Not?
  • Premier Icon GrahamS
    Subscriber

    Yeah ‘coz I’m sure that the only way to eliminate 800 people from their enquiries was via DNA testing.

    It’s a 26 year old case. Are you suggesting they hadn’t had time to eliminate the suspects through other methods?

    My point is that it’s very easy to talk detachedly about privacy concerns and so on, but would you feel so strongly if you were confronted with a family whose daughter’s killer could have been caught earlier if such a system existed.

    Imagine a worse scenario, perhaps where a murder could have been prevented if police had been able to find a quick match for DNA at the scene. Could you face that family and justify your concerns?

    gonefishin
    Member

    It’s a 26 year old case. Are you suggesting they hadn’t had time to eliminate the suspects through other methods?

    Whilst the case may have remained open I doubt very much that any police officer was working on it everyday for each of those 26 years.

    Policy on this sort of thing should be developed based on rational thought and not the sort of “straw man” arguments that you are presenting. If the best you can come up is a hysterical “won’t-somebody-think-of-the-children” type of argument then you don’t have much of an argument at all.

    If you are that concerned however why don’t you go down the police station and have your DNA and fingerprints put on the existing police database. I’m sure they won’t mind.

    Premier Icon GrahamS
    Subscriber

    Actually I have been DNA swabbed twice as part of two separate murder investigations (I used to live in Glasgow), but they are not currently allowed to store that data.

    I have pretty much the same privacy concerns as everyone else, but I’m not sure I would have the courage of my convictions when faced with a situation where a murder could have been prevented by such a database.

    No “straw man” argument here. Just a straight hypothetical question: if someone dear to you had been murdered and the police had samples of the killer’s DNA but no idea who he/she was then would you honestly still oppose such a database?

    gonefishin
    Member

    No “straw man” argument here. Just a straight hypothetical question: if someone dear to you had been murdered and the police had samples of the killer’s DNA but no idea who he/she was then would you honestly still oppose such a database?

    That’s exactly what a straw man argument is. But yes I honestly would still oppose such a database, especially as the vast majority of murders are solved and result in a criminal conviction without the need for such a database.

    Premier Icon GrahamS
    Subscriber

    Hmm.. my understanding of a straw man argumment is “an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

    I apologise if I am misrepresenting your position but I’m certainly not introducing a fallacy here.

    In 2007 there were 1391 murders and attempted murders known to police. 1121 of these resulted in a sanction detection. That means around 1 in 5 were unsolved. The results for rape were far worse with less than 25% of the 12,630 known rape cases being solved.

    This is the reality of the actual situation – not a straw man.

    gonefishin
    Member

    So 80% of murders and attempted murders were solved without any recourse to a DNA database. Not sure about you but that certainly seems like a “vast majority” to me.

    I take your point about the logical fallacy but to introduce an emotional element

    if someone dear to you…

    into a hypothetical questions betrays your arguments inherant weakness.

    Why introduce results for rape now? Trying to change the goalposts? I doubt a DNA database would have any impact on rape conviction as the reason those conviction rates are low is due to the difficulty in proving or disproving consent not on whether or not intercourse had actually taken place.

    Premier Icon GrahamS
    Subscriber

    So 80% of murders and attempted murders were solved without any recourse to a DNA database. Not sure about you but that certainly seems like a “vast majority” to me.

    It is a majority, but it is hardly vast. 1 in 5 unsolved is a pretty significant minority.

    Okay the emotional element was perhaps unnecessary, but if you think of these things purely as figures then it is easy to miss the impact they have on actual lives. 1 in 5 unsolved isn’t a great stat if you are directly effected by that 1.

    Why introduce results for rape now? Trying to change the goalposts?

    No change. It’s a serious crime and presumably the main use of such a database would be to aid in solving serious crimes. Murder was an example of such a crime. So is rape. Feel free to look at the figures for armed robbery, GBH etc.

    a DNA database would have any impact on rape conviction as the reason those conviction rates are low is due to the difficulty in proving or disproving consent not on whether or not intercourse had actually taken place.

    Which is why I used these figures, which relate to “sanction detection” (e.g. charges being brought in a known case), rather than figures on the subsequent conviction rate.

    One of the issues here is that the attacker may be completely unknown to the victim, so police may gather the attacker’s DNA but have no suspect to compare it to.

    gonefishin
    Member

    It is a majority, but it is hardly vast. 1 in 5 unsolved is a pretty significant minority.

    Well it’s a subjective term but if I could predict the outcome of horse races 80% of the time I’d be a very happy man.

    Implicit in your arguments for a database is the assumption that failure to gain a conviction is a direct result of not having this database. How many of those failures actually fall into that category, some perhaps but certainly not all. The huge (there’s another subjective term again) cost of creating, updating and maintaining such a database could be better spent on more and better policing reducing the crime rate. Rather than see a criminal punished I’d prefer the crime not be committed in the first place.

    TandemJeremy
    Member

    GrahamS – Member

    Actually I have been DNA swabbed twice as part of two separate murder investigations (I used to live in Glasgow), but they are not currently allowed to store that data.

    I think you will find that both those samples remain on file.

    Premier Icon GrahamS
    Subscriber

    Well it’s a subjective term but if I could predict the outcome of horse races 80% of the time I’d be a very happy man.

    Not if your life depended on winning ALL the races you wouldn’t.

    ..the assumption that failure to gain a conviction is a direct result of not having this database. How many of those failures actually fall into that category, some perhaps but certainly not all.

    Well we’re talking about charging someone here, not the subsequent conviction, which is up to the courts.

    But yes I think in many cases that such a database would be useful. To put a figure on it you’d need to know what percentage of all current criminal cases have unidentified DNA samples in the case evidence.

    I’ve no idea what that number would be. But it wouldn’t be representative anyway, as if such a database was available then it might result in more DNA collection being done at crime scenes.

    The huge (there’s another subjective term again) cost of creating, updating and maintaining such a database could be better spent on more and better policing reducing the crime rate.

    Possibly true. Though one might argue that using modern technology to catch more criminals IS “better policing”.

    Premier Icon GrahamS
    Subscriber

    I think you will find that both those samples remain on file.

    From memory we were given leaflets etc at the time that assured us they were only used for elimination purposes and that they would not and could not be legally held indefinitely on file.

    Of course that was around 1995, so the law may well have changed since then.

    Premier Icon epicyclo
    Subscriber

    G –
    “…and I hope you never end up as a member of an unpopular minority group.”
    I am, white middle class, middle aged male, still happily married after 29 years with the same woman, two kids both of which are hers and mine…. apparently

    Congratulations. So were a few million Jews in Germany. It would be much easier for the state if there was a DNA database to abuse.

    Premier Icon GrahamS
    Subscriber

    Oh that’s right. Invoke Godwin’s Law just as the discussion was getting interesting.

    konabunny
    Member

    Err – talking about state persecution of unpopular minorities isn’t exactly irrelevant in a discussion of the state gathering biometric data that could be used for persecution of unpopular minorities. It’s not like, for instance, s/he said Australia’s helmet laws were “worthy of the Nazis and one step away from Nuremburg laws” or something completely hyperbolic like that. So you can ram Godwin up your poop chute! 🙂

    Premier Icon epicyclo
    Subscriber

    Thanks Konabunny, nicely put.

    I recently read the journal of a German citizen of the time. He was a Protestant who had served in the front line in WW1. However the state deemed him to be Jewish because of ancestry, and what struck me was the way he rationalised away each restriction as they crept in, one by one, until he realised he was trapped. He escaped by the skin of his teeth. Millions were not so lucky. Yet Germany was a civilised western country – looking at it before the Nazis, you would never have predicted it.

    Probably many people don’t know or care that genocide has been attempted in these isles in the past, fortunately not in the last hundred years or so, but they regarded themselves as civilised, rational, and decent then too.

    Premier Icon GrahamS
    Subscriber

    Alright, fair enough but I still think it reeks of hyperbole and reductio ad Hitlerum.

    We’re not talking about a database used to persecute minorities. We’re talking about a DNA matching database.

    Such a database would be never store the entire DNA sequence of every person. Bear in mind that the human genome consists of around 3 billion base pairs. We simply don’t have the technology to store 3 billion things about every person in the UK and then run matches on it.

    Instead the database stores statistical information about the DNA, such as the number of repeating pairs at specific loci.

    The FBI’s CODIS database uses samples that have undergone STR analysis examining 13 loci. The odds of two people having identical 13-loci STR profiles are about one in a billion.

    This isn’t something that can be used to identify everyone that has blonde hair and blue eyes.

    http://science.howstuffworks.com/genetic-science/dna-evidence1.htm

    konabunny
    Member

    Such a database would be never store the entire DNA sequence of every person.

    Says who? The ID card was only ever supposed to be voluntary and for identification only; then it became compulsory for non-UK citizens and airport workers; now the Border Agency is suggesting integrating ATM cards into the ID card; and next it will be compulsory for everyone.

    Premier Icon GrahamS
    Subscriber

    Says who?

    Erm.. I do. I understand your concern about the escalation of these things.
    But all ethics and legality aside, that would be a HUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUGE frickin database.

    Population of the UK (as of July 2008): 60,943,912
    DNA sequence per person: 3,000,000,000 base pairs.

    Even if you could store each base pair as a single bit (0=AT, 1=CG), then you’d still be talking about 21 MILLION GB just to store the DNA data.

    If you’re not familiar with IT terminology then that’s a f*ckload. In fact its quite a few f*ckloads. For comparison, most PCs these days have a 250GB hard drive, so you’d need 85,137 of them.

    And if you wanted to be able to index that DNA data so you could actually search it then you’d need at least the same again. Even then it would be completely unusable because the searches would take decades to run.

    The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center has one of the biggest databases in the world which is 2.8 petabytes. So you’re talking about say 20 of them!

    AdamW
    Member

    GrahamS:

    This is easily sorted. Take so many base pairs and produce an index from them. This then points to a separate database on a separate system for that subset. This way you introduce parallelism into the architecture. Do through a number of iterations and you have a searchable DNA database – it doesn’t have to be a linear search.

    But yes, the quantities of storage required would be very large indeed. But it is about (your calculations) 21EiB. We have terabyte drives now; just a matter of time, I s’pose.

    Premier Icon GrahamS
    Subscriber

    Getting a bit OT, but yes you could go massively parallel. Maybe distribute it over say 400,000 PCs. Your running costs would be horrific though and I don’t know what you’d do about backups!

    The point is, there is an enormous difference between a DNA-matching database which stores statistical DNA-profiles (like the ones that are in use today and the kind we were originally discussing) and “the state” building some kind of fantasy Über-database, 20 times larger than the biggest in the world, at a cost of billions of pounds, that goes far, far beyond the actual law-enforcement requirements, purely on the off-chance that some tyrannical regime in a dystopian future may require them to identify all citizens that are genetically predisposed to colour blindness and a fondness for cats.

    In my experience, government IT projects are rarely that well future proofed!

    Premier Icon epicyclo
    Subscriber

    GrahamS –
    …purely on the off-chance that some tyrannical regime in a dystopian future may require them to identify all citizens that are genetically predisposed to colour blindness and a fondness for cats.

    In my experience, government IT projects are rarely that well future proofed!

    Get a dystopian future government, and they’ll find the money, just like money was found for concentration camps…

    Premier Icon GrahamS
    Subscriber

    Get a dystopian future government, and they’ll find the money, just like money was found for concentration camps…

    Well I’m sure they might, but hopefully you can now see that this isn’t a coherent argument against establishing a National DNA Database and why talk of such a database being used for eugenics is essentially just scaremongering.

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