FutureWire - futurism and emerging technology

Monday, April 11, 2005

Is DNA Profiling a Threat to Civil Liberties?

A little over a decade ago, the use of DNA in the field of criminal justice was the stuff of science fiction. Today, it's so familiar that whole TV series are built around it. Now, though, some are beginning to ask whether DNA profiling will have the unintended consequences of restricting civil liberties and fueling prejudices.

Under California's Proposition 69, approved last fall, police can retain DNA profiles for anyone arrested for a crime -- regardless of whether they are charged. Similar laws exist in the UK. Says Tania Simoncelli at the American Civil Liberties Union, "If your DNA is on the database it means that you are forever an automatic suspect for any crime in the future. It undermines the principle of presumptive innocence." But it's not just principle that critics of DNA profiling are worrying about. Being on a list, they say, could needlessly prevent people from traveling or obtaining employment. Critics also suggest that because minorities are over-represented in such databases, they could be presumed guilty in an investigation.

Police, meanwhile, argue that DNA profiling is an effective and essential tool for law enforcement. Often, those arrested and profiled for one crime can be linked via DNA to other unsolved crimes, which might never have been solved otherwise. DNA has also absolved truly innocent people of crimes of which they were accused.

As DNA technology becomes more sophisticated ahd databases become larger, questions such as these will take on greater scientific, political, legal and ethical significance.

Source: New Scientist