Tuesday, March 16

Yale law student wants government to have everybody's DNA

Michael Seringhaus, a Yale Law School student, writes in the NY Times: 'To Stop Crime, Share Your Genes.' In order to prevent discrimination when it comes to collecting DNA samples from criminals (and even people who are simply arrested), he proposes that the government collect a DNA profile from everybody, perhaps at birth (yes, you heard that right).

Regarding the obvious issue of genetic privacy, Seringhaus makes this argument: "Your sensitive genetic information would be safe. A DNA profile distills a person’s complex genomic information down to a set of 26 numerical values, each characterizing the length of a certain repeated sequence of 'junk' DNA that differs from person to person. Although these genetic differences are biologically meaningless — they don’t correlate with any observable characteristics — tabulating the number of repeats creates a unique identifier, a DNA 'fingerprint.' The genetic privacy risk from such profiling is virtually nil, because these records include none of the health and biological data present in one’s genome as a whole."
The sound you just heard was a massive Overton window shift towards statism.

A quote from the op-ed:
As a practical matter, universal DNA collection is fairly easy: it could be done alongside blood tests on newborns, or through painless cheek swabs as a prerequisite to obtaining a driver's license or Social Security card. Once a biological sample was obtained, its use must be limited to generating a DNA profile only, and afterward the sample would be destroyed. Access to the DNA database would remain limited to law enforcement officers investigating serious crimes.

Since every American would have a stake in keeping the data private and ensuring that only the limited content vital to law enforcement was recorded, there would be far less likelihood of government misuse than in the case of a more selective database.

A /.er responds:
This guy reminds me of a cute little 5 year old. His heart is in the right place and he just wants everything fair and nice. However, those are some BIG ASSUMPTIONS he is making:

1) A sample will be destroyed after it is used to create a DNA profile.
2) Only law enforcement will have access
3) Since more Americans are in the database there is a less likelihood of government misuse.

Actually, I am not sure we can call those assumptions. More like hypothetical requirements for an argument, like, the Sun will be Purple tomorrow.

All 3 of those assumptions have been proven to be false, time and time and time and time again. Wasn't it just recently that we found out Texas A&M was participating in collecting blood and tissue samples from newborns without the parents knowledge and consent? Were they not also used for purposes the parents were unaware of and could object to?

Are we really to believe that only law enforcement would have access when any PI with a few bucks can currently gain access to supposedly proteced information that only law enforcement officials should be accessing?

Has not the goverment been caught time and time and time again abusing databases by using them for purposes well outside of the justifications and reasons for their initial creation? Doesn't the goverment quite frequently change their minds about what they will do with resources after the fact?

Sure, if all of those assumptions are held to be true, I would agree with him about making a DNA database. However, it is not my cynicism and disillusionment in goverment that causes me to be skeptical of those assumptions. It's COLD HARD REALITY, FACTS, AND PRECENDENTS. If you want to ignore that, and let them move on with a clean slate, that's your choice. I choose to remember how often the government lies to me and abuses me.


  1. there are way too many dumbasses in law school (yes, even yale [see, e.g., Bush, Premier George, II])


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