Friday, April 18, 2008

Stop the Presses! (Please) Snooze Journal gets it wrong on DNA collection. . . .

. . . which is not exactly a big surprise.

Here's the gist of the inane editorial arguing that the Feds should be allowed to collect DNA from everyone arrested for a Federal crime:

DNA is simply the 21st-century version of 19th-century fingerprint technology.

In addition, DNA from both a victim and the accused can be invaluable proof of whether a charged or convicted suspect is actually guilty of a crime. Fingerprints can't do that.

It is easy to see where civil libertarians can be wary of government compilation of such data. But the good that it can do in law enforcement overrides the fears of potential abuse.

Besides, creating a database of everyone's personal health profile would be complicated, extremely time-consuming and expensive.

The new federal rules for use of DNA apply only to those arrested or convicted of federal crimes. But 13 states, with California soon to join, have already agreed to start collecting DNA information for those arrested or convicted of state crimes. These states also pass on their files to the FBI.

As long as the government stays out of the dangerous area of personal health history and concentrates only on criminal applications, the DNA program should pay off well in the future.

It can also be relied upon to keep innocent people from execution for crimes they didn't commit.


OK, since they are morons, let's parse this line by line.

1) "DNA is simply the 21st-century version of 19th-century fingerprint technology."

No. Fingerprints identify who an individual is, but cannot tell you any more information about that person. DNA provides the authorities with all kinds of personal information (the categories of which are growing every day) about health and genetic background that are no one else's business--and certainly not that of the government which has merely arrested, not convicted, an individual.

2) "In addition, DNA from both a victim and the accused can be invaluable proof of whether a charged or convicted suspect is actually guilty of a crime. Fingerprints can't do that."

No. DNA is only circumstantial evidence, not proof. As we should have learned with the Kobe Bryant case, for example, the presence of one man's DNA in a woman's vagina is not proof of rape. It is not even necessarily proof of intercourse. All that DNA can do is (a) locate a person or (b) rule a person out. There is currently no barrier to an innocent suspect requesting that his or her DNA be matched.

3) "It is easy to see where civil libertarians can be wary of government compilation of such data. But the good that it can do in law enforcement overrides the fears of potential abuse."

No. Neat trick, Snooze J: assert your conclusion without any proof. As the Duke LaCrosse case proves, law enforcement is neither infallible in action, nor always pristine in motive. Notice the interesting inversion of a primary American founding principle: the News Journal insists that the cause of law enforcement overrides the cause of Civil Rights. Sounds suspiciously (exactly) like what Dubya argued with respect to the Patriot Act.

4) "Besides, creating a database of everyone's personal health profile would be complicated, extremely time-consuming and expensive."

So what? So was charting the human genome, monitoring 13 Billion phone calls per day, and (per Google) creating a database on every person on earth. In point of fact (which the techno-peasants at the NJ Editorial Board seem not to grasp), creating such a database for a mere 300 million people is only a very modest processing challenge, that is well within the means of virtually every State government and most Fortune 500 corporations.

5) "The new federal rules for use of DNA apply only to those arrested or convicted of federal crimes. But 13 states, with California soon to join, have already agreed to start collecting DNA information for those arrested or convicted of state crimes. These states also pass on their files to the FBI."

Neat conflation of arrest and conviction here. Anybody can be arrested. For anything. And the DNA sample (like fingerprints) will be taken even before the cops have to show cause to any magistrate. The "13 states" argument is meaningless. If 13 states were to declare blue to be red, and the Federal government agreed, would that make the fourteen entities correct? What's unethical remains unethical regardless of how many people do it.

6) "As long as the government stays out of the dangerous area of personal health history and concentrates only on criminal applications, the DNA program should pay off well in the future."

The problem, of course, is that we cannot rely on the government to stay out of personal health history. How many State governments now sell your DMV information to defray costs? Remember the promise on your old Social Security card? "Not to be used for identification purposes." Once the government has the information, all that is required is for someone--say the director of a single-payer health care system in some possible future--to make the case that "health care would be so improved if we just had a comprehensive national DNA database."

7) "It can also be relied upon to keep innocent people from execution for crimes they didn't commit."

No, it can't. At best, DNA evidence--like all other forms of physical, circumstantial evidence--can influence the process. There will still be errors, malfeasances, quirks of the law, and simple refusal to deal with the evidence as it appears. This is the disingenuous carrot, however, that Statists always dangle. The more information we have about you, they'll say, the better we can protect you.

The problem is that I didn't agree to their protection, I often feel the need to be protected from the State, rather than by the State, and--here's the important one: We can't blame Dubya for gutting the Fourth Amendment if we're willing to stand passively by and watch the Feds eviscerate the Fifth.

2 comments:

Steve LaBianca said...

Excellent analysis, and I agree completely! You seem like just the type of person who could be very helpful for the Mary Ruwart campaign.

Regarding that, here is what I posted at Third Party Watch, regarding your attempt to volunteer for the campaign:

"Steve Newton,

Your information has been passed along to the volunteer coordinator, and on up to the campaign manager as well. Somehow, your information was not found. I have been asked to request from you , that you try going through the “volunteer” process again (sorry), as whatever information you provided in the past is not available to contact you with. Mary and the campaign staff apologize for this inconvenience, and your situation is the very rare exception rather than the rule, but we would please try “volunteering” again. We would love to have you on board the “Train to Denver”, and further on, to the election! Thank you. www.votemary2008.com"

Steve LaBianca said...

And my obvious typo which I should have said "we would like for you to please try "volunteering" again."