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back to article Matching genes for criminal injustice

Next week, the Nuffield council on Bioethics is set to publish its thoughts on the ethics of using biometrics as forensic tools. In the lead up to the publication of the report, to be entitled The Forensic Use of Bioinformation: Ethical Issues, the debate about the use of DNA, particularly, has intensified. At the close of The …

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Anonymous Coward

Don't blame me I voted for Chief Constable Kodos

"Tony Lake, Chief Constable of Lincolnshire and Chair of the DNA Board, made his case."

The most over-policed country in Europe and once again the police are driving policy. Gosh darn it, if their solution to every problem includes more police powers, less accountability and bigger budgets.

And if you dare suggest that they're going in the wrong direction, (the US direction, and you only need to look to USA to see your future), then your elected political reps will be accused of being weak on crime by Krang and Kodos.

So we can't look at any alternative solutions to crime, it always has to be tougher laws, lower documentation, more arbitrary arrest powers, ....

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Fair use

The only fair use of DNA data I can think of is that DNA samples from convicted criminals is kept, and that from persons who have not been convicted is discarded.

Ok, so this may mean that if the police suspect someone is involved in crime (supposedly they 'know' who the criminals are), but can't pin a particular one on them, they may subsequently have to take another sample, but in practice, it's very likely that persistent criminals will end up on the database anyway, through a conviction for something, and can then be matched to DNA from other crime scenes, new or old.

Keeping innocent people's DNA on the database just encourages the lazy kind of 'investigation' highlighted in the article, which is dangerous for our liberties and ineffective in taking the real criminals 'off the streets'.

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Anonymous Coward

Power corrupts ....

Governments are kept in check by the peoples ability to overturn them or eject them from office.

With any new governmental power, the questions must be ask:

"How much damage could be done if an unethical administration would seek to abuse it?"

"How would such abuse be stopped or prevented after it has been set in motion?"

Without proper checks and balances these powers will eventually be passed to someone who does not respect the spirit in which they were intended to be used and instead use then in the most effective way for his own ends.

For example: If an administration suddenly had the ability to wiretap anyone without ever having to reveal who or why, the first people they would choose would obviously be any political opponents. Blackmail those with something to hide, identify key players and be forewarned of any political strategies that are not in line with their agenda. In almost no time, they would have control of all the major political forces, and while maintaining the illusion of democracy they would be able to pass any legislation they wanted to reshape the government into their new galactic empire. </rant>

... now, if you'll excuse me, I need to put another layer of tinfoil on my hat.

PS. as for the original topic, profiling and sorting out suspected criminals is not so different from profiling and sorting out political opposition.

.... Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely

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Anonymous Coward

Thank you Amber.

At last I have something to refer to, when someone says "I have nothing to hide".

The David Atkinson case shows that the DNA database is being used for lazy investigations and judgements, leaving David Atkinson to prove his innocence instead of the police proving without doubt that he committed the crime. A situatation that is completely the wrong way around.

IMO this case alone shows that the police can not be trusted to use the DNA database in a responsible way (as a tool to assist rather than an end to making a judgement without further investigation)

Just to repeat, it required David Atkinson to force a full investigation by not accepting the "deal" the police were offering.

How many people who feel just intimidated to accept the blame, instead of suffer the cost and stress of defending themselves?

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Anonymous Coward

The stats will lie

Even if the kinds of figures requested in the article (acquittals of DNA instigated investigations etc) will surely be skewed by the number of arrests and convictions of those who genuinely ARE innocent of the crime of which they have been accused but either can not or will not defend the case successfully. Hint: think (according to the stats we have) of poor, black men in inner cities who have been DNA swabber and/or convicted of something else previously and their DNA shows up in a different minor crime. They won't be given the time of day by a decent defence barrister!

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Silver badge

Excellent Example

I, too, want to add my thanks for the information about the Atkinson case.

Now any time someone says how great DNA and Biometrics are to catch criminals and that the innocent have "nothing to hide" I can show them positive proof of how the Police were willing to try to force an innocent person to admit guilt simply because they couldn't be bothered to investigate properly!

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"DNA evidence proving to be of use in 0.8 per cent of all crimes recorded"

http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/fileLibrary/pdf/Consultation_FINAL001.pdf has a recap of some of the info you were after:

<snip>

Confidence in the use of DNA profiling to assist in the detection of crime has stimulated government commitment and financial investment, leading in turn to a significant increase in the use of DNA in the criminal justice process.14 The evaluation of the DNA Expansion Programme demonstrates that the NDNAD provides the police with approximately 3,000 matches per month (over 40,000 matches were declared in 2004/05) (see Box 2).15 The chance of a new crime scene profile matching an individual’s profile already held on the NDNAD is 48 per cent.16 The detection rates for crimes where DNA evidence is available are significantly higher, at 40 per cent, than for those crime scenes where no DNA evidence is recovered, at 26 per cent.17 Detection rates are improved further for different crime types, for example, in domestic burglary the detection rate rises from 16 per cent to 41 per cent when DNA is recovered from the scene.18

Bioinformation is not always useful in detecting crimes, and not all matches lead to a conviction, or even an arrest. Initial DNA match reports provided to the police are often accompanied with a series of caveats, with just 49 per cent of matches on the NDNAD leading to a crime being detected (see Box 2).19 Moreover, in 42 per cent of cases where DNA evidence was available, the police already had the name of the suspect whose identity was suggested by the match report.20 In 2004–05, the Home Office reported 19,873 ‘DNA detections’ (see Box 2), with DNA evidence proving to be of use in 0.8 per cent of all crimes recorded, since in many recorded crimes, such as fraud, public order offences, etc., DNA will be of little relevance.21

<snip>

The NDNAD figure I don't understand is Jacqui Smith quote that it is "estimated that 13.7 per cent. of profiles held on the NDNAD are replicates". (http://gizmonaut.net/blog/uk/dna_ndnad_error_not_found.html) A naive interpretation of this figure raises serious questions as to the integrity of the NDNAD.

BTW, to attend the launch of the report, there's some info at http://www.nuffieldbioethics.org/go/ourwork/bioinformationuse/news_438.html

br -d

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Anonymous Coward

enhanced DNA database

Well as a trial for the upgrade/enhancement of the DNA database would it not be highly useful for all serving & retired police officers and Judges and Lords and MPs/MEPs/MSPs/MWPs/MnIPs to immediately voluntarily contribute their samples to remove the current ethnic bias of the data. Make the payment of their October Salary/Pension dependent on having a valid sample. We can then scientifically examine how well this works for a few years/decades before carefully expanding to the rest of the nation.

Private Eye mentioned that it was believed that the highly innocent (but arrested several times) Lord Levy, Ruth Turner etc were sadly NOT DNA sampled as police discretion says that a sample MAY be taken on arrest , but that it's not obligatory.

Remember too, that it was a National Database but now UK is sharing our DNA database with numerous enthusiastic foreign govermints. With the new immediate EU extradition system 'David Atkinson' might find himself in a Slovenian trial next week; "I've never been to Ljublana" seems a weak defence...

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Silver badge

‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’

So bend over and let me have it, is that it ?

Well no, I won't. I have nothing to hide, and it's none of your damn business. If you want me to bend over, you're going to have to have a rock-solid reason, and random strip searches aren't part of them.

The right to privacy is just that : a right to not be cataloged, sorted and labeled like chicken. Keep DNA records for CONVICTED criminals - child rapists, especially, and murderers. For the rest, do your job properly for a change, and stop trying to put all of us in virtual jail to satisfy your Dominatrix needs.

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Anonymous Coward

Title

From http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6992372.stm :

"Sir Alec Jeffreys said DNA matches alone did not establish guilt "

...Which kinda makes the whole "national database" thing pretty useless...

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Anonymous Coward

Chewing gum victories

"The evaluation of the DNA Expansion Programme demonstrates that the NDNAD provides the police with approximately 3,000 matches per month (over 40,000 matches were declared in 2004/05) (see Box 2).15 The chance of a new crime scene profile matching an individual’s profile already held on the NDNAD is 48 per cent."

So what's the false positives in this? One of the problems with the UK is these 'cautions', mini penalties and magistrate tried cases. They're so tempting, compared to the lengthy process of proving your innocence, but if you accept the caution then you go on the statistics as a successful prosecution. That man cautioned after his DNA was found on a vandalized post box could so easily have just accepted the caution, and the case would be flagged as a successful prosecution.

So what are the numbers when all the non custodial crimes are removed?

When I read that C&E had confiscated 10,000 vehicles in 2000/2001 for smuggling tobacco or alcohol, I wondered how many of those were simply people with insufficient resources or money to fight the confiscation in the first month. They have to find the money to buy a new car, catch up after their holidays and find the time and money to fight to get their old car back with a slim chance of success, (as C&E puts it on their website, their policy is to keep confiscated items).

When I searched to find out how many of those 10,000 were later convicted of smuggling, I found it was a negligible number. Almost all of those vehicles came from people not prosecuted for a crime. i.e. false positives. Yet customs and excise tout this as a huge success, and cite two or three sample cases of people hiding tobacco in their cars. (They shouldn't have to hide it, we have free movement of goods, they should bring it in with pride). Quite simply C&E treated all confiscations that were not appealed as smugglers that were caught.

This is a disgrace, nearly 10000 people suffered a hefty penalty without a judicial process.

So how many people will face a DNA prosecution simply because it's too difficult and expensive to prove your innocence.

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Anonymous Coward

Atkinson

Are there any details on what biometrics were recovered from the postbox and how they came to be there? I'm guessing his fingerprints didn't just fall off his postcards and onto the box...

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More details on David Atkinson here

http://www.blackpoolgazette.co.uk/ViewArticle.aspx?SectionID=62&ArticleID=1361138

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Title

<quote>

From http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6992372.stm :

"Sir Alec Jeffreys said DNA matches alone did not establish guilt "

...Which kinda makes the whole "national database" thing pretty useless...

</quote>

Try telling your arresting officer that! As the Atkinson case highlights, if your biometrics come up on the system then the burden of proof is reversed in the eyes of the Police. God love em...

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@Power corrupts ....

Yes, yes, we're all familiar with the 2004 US elections scandal.

Waiting eagerly for the first dead person to be accused of a crime post-mortem, based on faulty DNA evidence...

Tip: Insert overlapping carbon paper sheets between the layers of tinfoil for maximum protection. If you have pets, foil them as well; they are often used as covert neural repeaters.

If you have nothing to hide... we haven't passed enough laws yet!

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The thin edge of the wedge

It's completely ludicrous that all people who are arrested are placed in this database. It goes against all the principles of Justice.

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‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ - part 2

try telling that to Jean Charles de Menezieres - oh sorry, you can't, he got shot in the head by those wonderful British policemen of ours that we keep being told not to fear, as long as we've got nothing to hide.

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