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2012-01-05 - 16:30:00 - by AlisonW - Topic: Meta: Ethics | Law |

Over the last few days a similar topic has come up during online and offline discussions with friends: does one's political world-view change as you get older?

There seems to be some received wisdom that you get more 'right-wing' as you get older, and though this has been supported by some others had suggested the reverse has applied to them. I'm certainly aware that while I've always had personal views which could be considered to cover the entire gamut from broad-left to far-right on specific topics – I've never been a believer that single Political Parties, no matter how broad a church they try to make out that they cover, are a valid answer – I can see in myself some 'focus' changes over maybe the last 15-10 years.

Making this a matter for a blog post though was prompted by one of the questions in today's YouGov survey request, "Different people have different ideas about whose DNA should be held on a national database, with the police allowed access when seeking to investigate crimes. Which of these options do you personally favour?"

They've supplied four answers, alongside the "don't know" get-out, being


  1. There should a national database of everyone's DNA

  2. There should be a national database of the DNA of everyone who has been arrested by the police in the course of investigating crimes, including those not charged, or charged and found not guilty

  3. There should be a national database of the DNA of people found guilty of a criminal offence

  4. Keeping anyone's DNA is an invasion of their privacy: no national DNA database of any kind should be kept

and the trouble starts there. There is absolutely no question that a DNA record is an invasion of personal privacy, and that every database is open to abuse. But it is as likely true that repeat offenders exists and whilst mere suspicion (or testing for exclusion) is not a crime there would be a clear deterrent effect if everyone knows without a shadow of doubt that the merest trace of their DNA at the scene of a murder or rape would attract the immediate attention of the investigative team. I am very firmly against the death penalty and find that it is still used in some countries – most notably the USA – as completely abhorrent; the state has no more 'right' to take a life than a sick individual, and the numbers demonstrate it is no deterrent.

But then my knowledge of the ease with which databases may give the wrong results (or fail to give the right one) and that, just as with the common cold you have no idea what the route of contagion was five or ten steps back, you have no idea where your DNA – be it a fleck of blood, 2mm of hair, or a few skin cells – might be carried completely innocently, then the idea of having everything on record becomes a case of 'too dangerous to take the first answer'. There are over seven billion souls on this planet and unless you have the complete DNA record of every single one then you will be searching against an incomplete set which might easily have a close match but not the exact, correct, guilty match. And we've returned to the past dangers of hanging the wrong person.



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