If the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter.

- George Washington

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Who Owns My DNA?

It's not often I agree wholeheartedly with a left-wing blog, but Next Left has it right on the button here.

It looks as thought the tentative consensus between Labour and the Conservatives over police retention of DNA samples is going to be broken up by Labour, purely to give them something to attack the Tories with on the doorsteps. The Tories don't want police to have your DNA, so they are the burglars' friend, kind of thing. Quite who would be taken in by this, given the present Government's leniency with all criminals except the middle classes, I'm not sure. But it does illustrate the depths of cynicism this lot will go to, just to have something to beat the opposition with in the forthcoming campaign.

I could have written this bit myself:

Let's take disproportionality first. If all we cared about was increasing how many crimes the police solve, then installing police surveillance equipment in every home would be an absolute humdinger of a policy idea.

Nineteen Eighty-Four was a warning, not an instruction manual, and all that. Don't give them ideas.

But obviously there would be the question of whether the gain in terms of crime detection is justified given the cost to privacy and the way the policy would change the relationship between the citizen and the state.

That relationship has already changed out of all recognition over the last 10-20 years, but it would be a catastrophe if it got any worse.

Precisely because of the message the policy sends to people, moreover, it could well be counter-productive. If people feel they are being labelled as suspects by the police, even when they are not criminals, then this might make them less willing to cooperate with the police. The police are no longer an extension of 'us', the law-abiding majority, but become an alien power whom many of us fear and resent. But if the police get less cooperation with the public, won't they solve fewer crimes?

Absolutely right. As long as we have a law-abiding majority who support the police, then the law-breaking minority can be contained. When the majority feel that the police are no longer on their side, and that the line between law-abiding and law-breaking is blurred, then this will lead to either anarchy or vigilantism.

So will you feel able to say, on the doorstep, that the Tories are the burglar's friend?

The claim is risible, but some people might be thick enough to be taken in by it. But no-one could surely say it with a straight face?


  1. Interesting. The question/controversy of DNA/privacy etc. is practically non-existent on this side of the pond. (except that is among the neo-fascists popularly holed up in Idaho expecting govt. inserted identification chips in their necks at birth and/or anyday now. They're a funny lot.)

  2. The question may be non-existent on your side of the pond - perhaps this is because you don't have the most intrusive and controlling Govt in living memory. Our freedom is being salami-sliced away, with each slice justified by terrorism, or children's welfare, or crime reduction, until we won't have any left. Each stage may be unexceptional in itself, but taken together we are more spied-upon and less free than at any period in our history. The DNA issue is just one example.

    The people objecting are, increasingly, normal folk, rather than survivalist lunatics with tinfoil hats. Things like the DNA database and the ID cards issue may not survive a change of Govt, but the trend is inexorable.


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