Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bark: The Tyranny of Freedom

A judge denounced the National DNA Database as "indefensible" today. Only his solution wasn't to get rid of it. No, he thinks we should add EVERYONE IN THE UK to it. Including visitors to the country.

I'm appalled on two levels here. Firstly on a technical level - a database with 65 MILLION people on it, plus goodness knows how many transients there are going through the country each year... I wouldn't like to be the IT Architect speccing out that system. The hardware alone is going to be in seven figures, never mind how much the cost of simply maintaining the system would be. And given the record of most government IT projects (we all know how well the ID card scheme is going and how brilliantly the NHS database was implemented...), I wouldn't expect this one to come in on time or on budget, either. And I'm sure it's a few billion quid that could be spent much better elsewhere. Like blowing up civilians in Afghanistan. No, damn, I meant HOSPITALS or SCHOOLS. You know, things that actually contribute something useful to society.

Secondly, I'm also appalled because it completely tramples on any notion of personal liberty. I resented enough having my fingerprints taken when I visited Seattle last year for a three day press trip - imagine having your entire DNA profile being stored permanently on a database because you fancied going on a booze cruise to Calais. (Think of the wonders that would do for our tourist industry!) This is information that holds absolutely everything about you. Your propensity to disease, obesity, your racial group, who you are related to, where your ancestors came from... if we were to get existential about this, you could say that your DNA is the physical manifestation of your soul. Not that I believe in the concept of a soul (immortal or otherwise), but you get the point - your DNA profile is capable of telling you things about yourself that even you don't know. And hence, this is exceptionally valuable information - particularly to people like insurance companies, because they can use it to refuse to give you life insurance policies, if your profile shows you have a family history of heart disease or things like Huntingdon's or Alzheimer's, just as one example.

Imagine going into a bank and asking for a mortgage and being turned down because the mortgage advisor says "Oh, sorry, according to your DNA profile you're at a high risk of getting heart disease, so you probably won't live long enough to pay back the loan." People in the Government can talk all they like about the security of these kinds of databases, but that's no guarantee against some smartass lawyer working for a big multinational bank or insurance group using a loophole in the Freedom of Information Act to get hold of the data. Or someone hacking it and then hawking the data to the highest bidder.

Never mind the (im)practicalities of creating a database that big in the first place (how much would a national screening program to collect all those 65 million samples cost?) - if this kind of system was implemented, it is inevitable that the information would get into the public domain, by hook or by crook. And when you put that information into the hands of corporations, and you're looking at a world with a genetic underclass - where people aren't able to procure healthcare, insurance or credit on the basis of their genetic makeup...

Yet the arguments for this kind of utterly authoritarian action seem so reasonable (if you're a moron). "The system is indefensibly unfair as it is! So let's violate EVERYBODY'S privacy instead!" Yes! Of course! Treating EVERYONE like a criminal is the solution to everything! "Most people don't commit crime, so they don't think they have anything to worry about being on it." This just proves that "most people" don't need to be on the database at all. It also proves, if they truly think that and it's not simply political spin, "most people" are imbeciles and that you shouldn't listen to "most people", let alone decide policy around what they think. "Most people" are too blindly ignorant to think through the implications of most of their own actions, let alone what the government or judiciary do. I guess this is still why they have faith in human nature... Having everyone on the database will act as a deterrent. What, a deterrent to all those "most people" who wouldn't commit crime anyway?

The rest of the arguments are similarly specious - especially the one proposed by the Police Inspector on FiveLive this morning who said "if a child had been raped in your neighbourhood, wouldn't you want to give a DNA sample to eliminate yourself from the enquiry?" Way to play the moral and emotional blackmail card, guy! If you're against the DNA database, you must be a CHILD RAPIST! No, I just don't like living in a police state, thanks.

If the government is ever stupid enough to think that this might be a good idea, I'm booking my plane tickets out of the country and never coming back.
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