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DNA Test on the Street Raises Question of Civil Rights


The idea that old ladies could be stopped and subjected to a DNA swab in case a DNA test is needed to link them to a future crime may seem absurd, but could become a reality. Columnist Henry Porter writing in The Observer newspaper commented on a radio station phone-in on which he was a guest where an old lady said she wouldn’t mind being subjected to a test when her dog fouled the pavement. “There wasn’t time to talk about the sinister absurdity of sanctioning a law that compels old ladies to offer up a mouth swab, whether they want to or not. No time to state that the Home Office and police are engaged on a programme to introduce DNA mass testing by stealth. No time to wonder at the complete absence of parliamentary debate on this crucial issue of liberty,” wrote Porter.

The DNA Test and Civil Liberty

As well as raising issues about civil liberties, the notion of being subjected to a DNA test on the street also conjured up the image of a police state. DNA analysis raises a whole Pandora’s Box of questions about how genetics might be used against people in the future – such as discriminating against employees or those looking for health insurance. This type of test can reveal genetic dispositions to violence for example or genetic diseases as well as linking people to a crime scene.

DNA Test on the Street

However a recent news report suggests that the police may be given the power to take DNA samples for a DNA test on the street. Although many might see a DNA used as a vital tool in a major criminal investigation, it’s being suggested that police could take DNA samples from suspects found dropping litter, speeding or not wearing their seatbelt. Official genetics watchdogs are asking for a public inquiry into the police national DNA database after it was revealed thatit holds DNA records for one in three British black men. If the Home Office agrees to the DNA swabs on the street for testing, the database – already the biggest DNA database in the world – will expand massively.

Testing DNA Solves Crime

However, the fact that more and more rapes and murders committed in the past and present are being solved by a simple test thanks to DNA samples means it’s likely that the use of DNA information by the police will continue to grow. There are ethical concerns however that the increase in the DNA database and taking swabs for a DNA test is bringing the UK closer to a ‘police state’.

Big Brother is Watching

The UK is already the most watched country in Europe with Big Brother watching over our shoulders thanks to the massive CCTV networks across the land. Increasing the use of the DNA anaysis for criminal intelligence purposes is, some critics believe, a further step towards reducing our freedoms. Ultimately, as Porter writes, it will “alter the nature of a society where rights and liberty were believed to be as natural as summer rain.” It’s clear however that the DNA test has a vital role to play in solving crime, finding out parentage or discovering genetic illnesses. But the idea of giving a DNA sample for dropping litter is a step too far for some.

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