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  1. evil fizz
    evil fizz May 15, 2007 at 8:12 am | *

    Woohoo! Almost two million dollars for data that will likely be useless. *smooches government*

  2. Holly
    Holly May 15, 2007 at 8:24 am |

    Or far worse, might be useful but for the wrong purposes.

    The headline to this made me laugh, by the way… I don’t want a giant Q-tip anywhere near my privacy! Hmm, I think…

  3. Em
    Em May 15, 2007 at 8:35 am |

    Couldn’t you screw up the result by having something in your mouth during sampling that has an obviously different DNA sig and making sure the q-tip touches it? I’m thinking like a piece of beef jerky tucked into your gum, for example.

  4. Em
    Em May 15, 2007 at 8:40 am |

    This would be assuming that they didn’t scrutinize every sample they collected, just sent it to the lab and lab sends it back and it gets filed. Years later someone might pull it out and realize that it’s fucked up, but too late.

  5. D
    D May 15, 2007 at 8:42 am |

    I know there is a lot of hype about DNA having all sorts of information for who we are and all, but in terms of forensics, it generally isn’t going to be any more informative than a finger print, less so in fact. Some day that may change, but probably not within our lifetimes. So I think your concern #2 is completely unfounded. Your third concern seems to be a problem of competency in regards to DNA handling and use. Which is not to say it is not a valid concern, but simply one not intrinsic to DNA evidence.

  6. D
    D May 15, 2007 at 8:50 am |

    Em: You’d have to have human (or maybe chimp) tissue to interfere. And they tend not to let you take the sample yourself, so you’d have to have it grafted into your mouth. In other words, no, you probably can’t screw with the test. You’d probably have better luck with trying to switch out the cotton swap when they weren’t looking.

  7. B.D.
    B.D. May 15, 2007 at 9:05 am |

    Well, the potential for abuse – either now or in the future – is too great. I’d err on the side of privacy. If convicted of a serious crime (one in which violence is involved), then I’m comfortable with keeping such evidence. However, I draw the line at things such as pot convictions, etc.

    There is a move on in England to collect DNA samples of all children. It’s not going over well with the public and for good reason. Once that data is out of our control, we don’t know how it will be used or abused. England is also a place where they will do DNA sweeps to find a criminal. That data is supposed to be erased once the criminal is located, but there are instances where police haven’t been doing that.

    I just don’t see a good purpose coming from keeping DNA data for non-violent offenses any more than I see a good purpose for keeping it for everyone regardless of whether they’ve committed a crime.

  8. syfr
    syfr May 15, 2007 at 9:12 am |

    Gattaca.

  9. Raging Moderate
    Raging Moderate May 15, 2007 at 9:15 am |

    I don’t know about you, but I am not too keen on turning people’s most sensitive information over to the government at a time when it’s clear that the government does not respect its citizens’ privacy.

    What do you think they might do with that information that makes this a bad idea?

  10. Isabel
    Isabel May 15, 2007 at 9:33 am |

    Gattaca

    God that was a bad movie. Like, it’s super future advanced and they wait till the baby is born to prick his heel oh-so-dramatically as his mother is recovering ad he’s screaming for a speck of blood instead of, oh I dunno, DOING A FUCKING AMNIOCENTESIS DURING THE PREGNANCY? And don’t get me started on the part where they go to space WEARING SUITS, or the fact that for two people who wound up getting married Ethan Hawke and Uma Thurman have NO chemistry and also can’t act.

    Jude Law was pretty though.

    </derail&gt

  11. Isabel
    Isabel May 15, 2007 at 9:35 am |

    Bah! the little greater than sign came out pretty in the preview.

    hmph.

  12. the15th
    the15th May 15, 2007 at 9:36 am |

    DNA evidence is extremely valuable in sexual assault cases in particular. Even the ACLU isn’t objecting to the data collection; they’re just asking for greater protections on how it’s used: “They must include strict protections to assure that DNA is collected and used only for legitimate law enforcement purposes, such as exonerating the innocent or convicting the guilty.” This isn’t a case of women’s safety versus civil liberties; it’s a case of women’s safety versus eliminating a theoretical possibility of civil liberties violations. I really think this should be a no-brainer for feminists.

  13. Arianna
    Arianna May 15, 2007 at 9:39 am |

    Isabel:

    I haven’t seen the movie in a loooong time, but in defense of them waiting until the kid was born, I think the idea was that they wanted to have some sort of genetic underclass to do the dirty jobs, so of course they’d wait until the kid was born to make sure people weren’t running around aborting the underclass. At least, that’s what I got out of it anyway. Though, they did have genetically engineered perfect babies anyway, iirc…

    Anyway, apologies for continuing the derail :/

  14. DAS
    DAS May 15, 2007 at 9:51 am |

    the government does not respect its citizens’ privacy.

    Sorry to be one of those “priority trolls” here, but while the gov. not respecting citizens’ privacy is bad enough (btw — we need to tie this into “the right to privacy” — it’ll get at least some anti-choicers/anti-bc’ers — the kind of Catholics who remember their English history and the “priest holes” — to shut up about Roe and about Griswold … when I’m paranoid, I wonder if the money-men of the right really hate Roe and Giswold because they don’t want a “right to privacy” … not ’cause they care about feti or spermatozoan-Americans), it’s even worse that private industry, people whom we can’t remove from power by electing others, is making a frickin’ profit off of sharing our personal information (e.g. credit bureaus) — and we don’t see a dime out of the information that is our information! Heck, you have to fill out some forms to even request to see what information they have on you — and if it’s wrong, you need to jump through so many hoops to collect it.

    So, it ain’t just the government … and it ain’t just criminals …

    *

    Anyhoo, back on topic. My main fear is that people will read too much into evidence of physical location. For example — they might find your DNA at a crime scene — and you were there, your story for why you were there ain’t good enough — so bam! you’re convicted.

    I saw this happen when I was an alternate on a jury: the jury convicted someone based solely on the testimony of the complainant (who was stoned at the time of the alleged crime) and on the fact that it was known (due to video surveillance) the defendant was alone with the complainant when the alleged crime occured. Now, in this particular sort of case, I know the popular opinion around these parts is that if someone would go through the bother of alleging the sort of crime in question, you must believe her unless he had a darned good amount of evidence that what she claims just didn’t happen (what ever happened to the presumption of innocence?) — indeed, I am not sure if the doubts raised by his explanation of the events could be considered reasonable — his story was awfully cockamamy: but sometimes the truth is more cockamamy than fiction.

    The point though is, if we already convict people based on the testimony of a person claiming to have been victimized and the only evidence of a crime even occuring is that testimony and evidence placing the defendent with the complainant at the time of the alleged crime … how much easier will it be to secure convictions if the jury also has DNA evidence of the defendent’s presence in a location — even if the evidence really has nothing to do with the crime.

    Our false positive rate in convictions is too high to risk this, nu?

  15. tps12
    tps12 May 15, 2007 at 10:35 am |

    This doesn’t make sense…a DNA database is never needed for exoneration. The accused can just submit their DNA for testing during the investigation, and if it doesn’t match the DNA at the scene then they’re off the hook (as far as DNA evidence, anyway), right?

    The database can only possibly aid in identifying perpetrators whose DNA is already recorded from a prior conviction. Which might exonerate someone wrongfully accused in a situation like “we got a match for X, so the crime wasn’t committed by Y,” but in that case they could have just checked genetic material from the crime scene to Y and found no match…no database necessary.

  16. Chet
    Chet May 15, 2007 at 11:39 am |

    This doesn’t make sense…a DNA database is never needed for exoneration.

    I can imagine a situation where a suspect is convicted on the basis of, say, circumstantial evidence and a mistaken eyewitness, and then exonerated when a private lab analyzes DNA found at the scene but not brought to trial, and discovers a more relevant suspect through that means.

    but in that case they could have just checked genetic material from the crime scene to Y and found no match…no database necessary.

    A mismatch isn’t necessarily exculpatory. It depends on the circumstances, I guess. In a crime committed in a hotel room, for instance, the DNA sample recovered could have been from someone completely unrelated to the crime – not proof that another person, not you, was involved.

  17. Bitter Scribe
    Bitter Scribe May 15, 2007 at 11:39 am |

    I’m kind of torn on this one. In theory, collecting DNA should be no different from collecting mug shots and fingerprints. On the other hand, I’m annoyed by the push to sink more and more money into ever more elaborate forms of law enforcement, which means less for education, social services, health and other sectors that might actually improve the quality of people’s lives (and, not so incidentally, reduce crime).

  18. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 15, 2007 at 11:44 am |

    I know there is a lot of hype about DNA having all sorts of information for who we are and all, but in terms of forensics, it generally isn’t going to be any more informative than a finger print, less so in fact.

    I think people are more worried about stuff like insurance companies paying for access to the database, finding the people who have, say, the BRCA gene, and blacklisting them from getting health insurance. That’s perfectly plausible and workable at our current level of technology.

  19. Nymphalidae
    Nymphalidae May 15, 2007 at 12:01 pm |

    I don’t really know how forensic genetics works, but to make sure the DNA I extracted really came from my beetles and not something else I would do a BLAST search to compare my sequences with others in the Genbank database.

  20. Confused
    Confused May 15, 2007 at 12:02 pm |

    I’m surprised to see such opposition here to something that could help convict more rapists.

  21. zuzu
    zuzu May 15, 2007 at 12:05 pm | *

    And just how would it do that, Confused? As opposed to the current methods of DNA collection.

  22. Nick
    Nick May 15, 2007 at 12:08 pm |

    I think people are more worried about stuff like insurance companies paying for access to the database, finding the people who have, say, the BRCA gene, and blacklisting them from getting health insurance. That’s perfectly plausible and workable at our current level of technology.

    From blood samples drawn directly from a patient, yes. It’s not something that can be reliably determined through cheek swabbing. Your DNA “fingerprint” is not made up of your genome, but rather of certain repeating sequences that vary from individual to individual and are easy to test for, as well as standing up to the gradual decay of cells removed from the body. Buccal swab testing is good for DNA fingerprinting, or for paternity tests, or similar applications, but pretty poor for actual genetic testing. This is why doctors still test blood samples, instead.

  23. Confused
    Confused May 15, 2007 at 12:12 pm |

    And just how would it do that, Confused? As opposed to the current methods of DNA collection.

    By increasing the chance that a rapist’s DNA is in the database, and he can be identified.

  24. Mostly Normal
    Mostly Normal May 15, 2007 at 12:24 pm |

    I’m not feeling passionately angry about this one. I don’t see it as that different from a fingerprint, just a lot more expensive. Mnemosyne’s insurance concern worries me though.

  25. Kristen
    Kristen May 15, 2007 at 12:27 pm |

    And just how would it do that, Confused? As opposed to the current methods of DNA collection.

    In the case of serial rapists or child molesters I think the answer is obvious.

    I’m less concerned with the usefulness of DNA testing and more concerned with the possible implications. Consider fingerprints for example. Finger printing was initially used as a filing system rather than a forensic tool, but the scientist who created our current system of classifying fingerprints also tried to use fingerprints as a justification for eugenics. Of course the eugenics movement died for the most part, but there are enough of the remnants of that movement in society today (See Silver, Remaking Eden) to make me feel concerned that DNA testing could be used to harm as well as help.

  26. the15th
    the15th May 15, 2007 at 12:28 pm |

    I’m annoyed by the push to sink more and more money into ever more elaborate forms of law enforcement, which means less for education, social services, health and other sectors that might actually improve the quality of people’s lives (and, not so incidentally, reduce crime).

    I think it’s a mistake to conflate these issues where sexual assault is concerned. Blaming society for not providing rapists with enough social services and healthcare lets the rapists off the hook. Where violence against women is concerned, law enforcement does improve the quality of people’s lives quite directly.

  27. Miranda
    Miranda May 15, 2007 at 12:43 pm |

    Okay, I know this has nothing to do with the topic at hand, but can I just say:

    http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSN1542579420070515

    hahahahahahahahaha

  28. evil fizz
    evil fizz May 15, 2007 at 1:13 pm | *

    Blaming society for not providing rapists with enough social services and healthcare lets the rapists off the hook.

    No, it’s not. Rather, it’s an “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” argument.

    Where violence against women is concerned, law enforcement does improve the quality of people’s lives quite directly.

    And what evidence do we have that this particular kind of law enforcement is going to result in some sort of improvement? People who commit rape, sexual assault, etc. are already in the database. Is there some sort of correlation between recreational pot use and serial rape that I’m unaware of?

  29. D
    D May 15, 2007 at 1:40 pm |

    Mnemosyne Says:

    I think people are more worried about stuff like insurance companies paying for access to the database, finding the people who have, say, the BRCA gene, and blacklisting them from getting health insurance. That’s perfectly plausible and workable at our current level of technology.

    While it would be possible to screen every DNA sample for general genetic problems, it is not plausible, nor as I said earlier, likely to become so anytime soon. It would be resource prohibitive and unreliable to actually do so. Normally all that is done is the production of a DNA fingerprint (What that can mean for those interested). I don’t know if the NY proposal would entail such, but normally it’s required for the DNA to be destroyed after the test is done and the result are on paper/disk (Granted that those charged with doing so don’t always). All that would then be on record is an identifier that might be less reliable than an actual fingerprint (I think there is actually evidence that real fingerprints aren’t really unique either).

    FYI, you want to have the BRCA gene, two fully functional copies in fact. It is its absence or deficiencies otherwise that leads to increased likelihood of cancer.

  30. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 15, 2007 at 1:47 pm |

    I’m surprised to see such opposition here to something that could help convict more rapists.

    I didn’t realize there was such a strong link between jaywalking and rape. Please enlighten us.

  31. SoE
    SoE May 15, 2007 at 1:54 pm |

    Just wanna throw in a remark from my boss “Molecular biology sometimes is like gambling. It may work or not work without any particular reason.”

    As someone said when DNA is tested it’s not the entire DNA sequence but certain sequences that scientists still think are of no other use than protecting the exons. Even though that might not be the case…
    Anyway there are quite a few things that can go wrong and most are connected with humans. Ups, did I just sneeze before I closed the cap? This should be sample 3… ummm… Add in that DNA is so fricking small that you cannot just look at the two fingerprints but have to rely on gels or some photons as proof. So forget CSI, reality is lot more depressing!!!

    Second: It’s hard to get your fingerprints somewhere else than where you have been but DNA might travel a long way.

  32. Confused
    Confused May 15, 2007 at 2:40 pm |

    People who commit rape, sexual assault, etc. are already in the database.

    Only if they have been previously convicted. As the conviction rate for rape is so low, there are thousands of rapists out there who have never had a DNA sample taken.

    I personally would have no problem giving a DNA sample to be put in the database, even though I have never been convicted of a crime.

  33. Linnaeus
    Linnaeus May 15, 2007 at 2:49 pm |

    I personally would have no problem giving a DNA sample to be put in the database, even though I have never been convicted of a crime.

    This hints at a question I was about to ask: if collecting DNA from those convicted of minor crimes is being suggested as an aid to catching those who may be guilty of more serious crimes, why not simply require that all citizens submit DNA samples? And if a DNA sample collected by a swab is little more than a fingerprint, why not require all citizens to be fingerprinted?

  34. evil fizz
    evil fizz May 15, 2007 at 3:13 pm | *

    As the conviction rate for rape is so low, there are thousands of rapists out there who have never had a DNA sample taken.

    And this is only going to make a difference if they commit a rape for which there is testable DNA evidence *and* they have previously been nabbed for shoplifting. I’m not saying there will be no overlap in the proverbial venn diagram, but it will not be substantial.

    The initial testing is going to add 50,000 people to the database. There are more than 19 million people in New York. That would add less than 3 one thousandths of a percent of the population to the database.

  35. Confused
    Confused May 15, 2007 at 3:40 pm |

    The initial testing is going to add 50,000 people to the database.

    Gotta start somewhere.

    if collecting DNA from those convicted of minor crimes is being suggested as an aid to catching those who may be guilty of more serious crimes, why not simply require that all citizens submit DNA samples?

    Works for me. I believe there are precedents for such a move. Haven’t they asked entire neighborhoods or towns for samples before? Or the Duke lacrosse team?

  36. Linnaeus
    Linnaeus May 15, 2007 at 3:45 pm |

    Haven’t they asked entire neighborhoods or towns for samples before? Or the Duke lacrosse team?

    I’m not familiar with the instance of the former, and yes, it did happen with the latter. In the case of the Duke lacrosse team and, I suspect, neighborhoods and towns being asked for samples, the collection was done in conjunction with an active investigation of an alleged crime. I was talking about a hypothetical situation in which there was no crime.

  37. Erika
    Erika May 15, 2007 at 5:08 pm |

    Tragedy struck on the night of July 7, 1993 when Zapata was brutally raped and murdered by Jesus Mezquia while walking home from a friend’s house.

    According to Unsolved Mysteries, a couple watching the late show heard what sounded like screams. A streetwalker found her beaten and mutilated body posed in a Christ-like fashion around 3:30 AM. According to the medical examiner, if she had not been strangled she would have died from the internal injuries suffered during the beating.

    A jury convicted Florida fisherman Jesus Mezquia of her murder on March 25, 2004, and he was sentenced to 36 years in prison…Mezquia was linked to the crime in 2003 when a DNA profile was extracted from a saliva sample left on Zapata’s body. It had been kept in cold storage until the STR technology was developed for full extraction. An original entry in 2001 failed to generate a positive result but Mezquia’s DNA entered the national databank after he was arrested in Florida for burglary in 2002.

  38. evil fizz
    evil fizz May 15, 2007 at 6:21 pm | *

    Haven’t they asked entire neighborhoods or towns for samples before? Or the Duke lacrosse team?

    Emphasis on asked.

  39. preying mantis
    preying mantis May 15, 2007 at 6:51 pm |

    “Haven’t they asked entire neighborhoods or towns for samples before?”

    There have been multiple instances in several countries where the police have requested that, say, all post-pubescent males in a small town submit DNA samples for comparison to evidence collected during the investigation of a specific case. They’ve had good participation rates in the past when there haven’t been chilling factors (concern over the collected samples not being destroyed in a timely fashion as promised, concern over general police trustworthiness) in effect. Police misconduct can fairly well dismantle what community outrage sets up; people give the samples when there’s no reason not to and community opprobrium to encourage it, but they’re less likely to comply when they can field a legitimate excuse and refuse without implicating themselves.

    I don’t think there’s any place where the cops can go about willy-nilly demanding that citizens who are neither well-established suspects nor particularly beholden to the state (incarcerated persons and persons on parole being two frequent exceptions) submit DNA samples. There’s that whole being secure in one’s person deal, for one.

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  41. Mnemosyne
    Mnemosyne May 15, 2007 at 8:03 pm |

    Erika, link please.

  42. zuzu
    zuzu May 15, 2007 at 8:18 pm | *

    But the proposed NY law would require that anyone convicted of any crime be entered into the database.

    Exactly. Even misdemeanors, like turnstile jumping.

  43. Ursula L
    Ursula L May 15, 2007 at 9:52 pm |

    I think I’d like to see at least one more step in the process.

    A match from this database should be explicitly not probably cause for an arrest, or admissible on appeal.

    Rather, such a match should be only grounds for collecting a new sample from the matched person for testing.

    This sample should be submitted for matching, along with at least four other samples, with each sample being sent to a different lab along with the original from the crime scene, for comparison. These are submitted by mail, with a standardized form that doesn’t let the lab have any clue if their sample is the suspect or the controls. Which lab each gets sent to is chosen randomly from an approved list.

    So five labs get one suspect and one evidence sample for testing, knowing they only have no more than a one in five chance of getting the actual suspect.

    And the results of all tests must be given to the defense. So any error will be evidence for exoneration, not a way for labs to help the cops they work with by telling them what they want to hear.

    Another step might work as follows:

    The investigating detectives and prosecutors don’t get to know which lab did the test until the case is actually at trial. The trial must have people from all the labs testify, followed by a witness who knows which went where testifying (without knowing results) which sample was the suspects.

    The last, I don’t feel quite as strongly about. The main thing is to have a test specific for the case, with the lab folk believing that the odds are that they don’t have a match, and that any false positive would be specific evidence against the state’s case, not a way to help detectives they work with and know.

  44. Danyell
    Danyell May 16, 2007 at 9:12 pm |

    I, too, am confused about the potential for abuse here. I think it sounds like a pretty good idea.

    Usually in ore serious crimes, cops look through people’s priors ANYWAY. The first people they’ll look at are those with the same type of crimes. If that doesn’t match, they look for people with minor crimes. At least with DNA they can filter through all that more quickly to find the most likely (hopefully) correct suspects.

  45. Bunny
    Bunny May 20, 2007 at 1:48 am |

    We’ve been having a similar problem in UK with the proposed (and laughable) ID cards. Every citizen, whether a criminal or law abiding, would be required, the next time they buy a passport, to give up DNA, fingerprints an retinal information to be added onto some card which will be kept on a database including our personal information (age, criminal convictions, race, etc) and which, they say, will be useful in security.

    Forget for one moment that a) DNA is not as good as everyone says it is, b) the retinal scan has been proven to be quite useless for people with certain blindness-causing conditions and c) our governments awful prior record at computerized information.

    The only way those cards would be useful is if it became law to keep one on your person and present it to the police whenever they ask. Again, even forgetting such incidents as Charles de Mendez and that awful prison Gladiator game, this is a bad idea.

    You want to know the issue with the USA keeping DNA data on minor criminals? You guys struggle to keep your rights even with such a powerful constitution explicitly stating those rights. What you are experiencing is the slippery slope to what our government wants to bring.

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