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It’s an ‘optional’ kind of civil rights violation December 28, 2007

Posted by franklittle in Bioethics, Ethics, Ireland, Judiciary, Technology.

The Irish Times has an interesting piece today (Sub required) with Justice Minister Brian Lenihan laying out his priorities for the year to come in an interview with former left-wing revolutionary turned Irish Times Legal Affairs correspondent Carol Coulter. The interview flags up the forthcoming Immigration and Residence Bill and points to the benefits this will have in the area of human trafficking, two items I intend to return to in coming weeks as it happens. But it is the proposed DNA database, which is dealt with at the very end of the article that struck me:

“However, he said legislation on a DNA database was coming. “Admissions are declining as a source of convictions. Science will play a greater role. I will be bringing proposals on a DNA database to Government. “People who are convicted will have their DNA taken. But I think there is a reason for a much broader database – not on a compulsory basis, but we could promote people voluntarily giving DNA. That could exclude people who innocently left traces at a scene.””


Little has been heard of this proposal since last August when the Irish Human Rights Commission (IHRC) issued its observations on the Criminal Justice (Forensic Sampling and Evidence) Bill 2007, which aims to establish just such a database. The IHRC makes clear its concerns about the human rights implications of such a database not being understood by the wider public and points to a lack of safeguards in the existing legislation. Two aspects of the legislation in particular terrified the Hell out of me when I first read it.

The first was that DNA samples provided would be held indefinitely. So, hypothetically, I decide in the interests of assisting the Gardaí to provide my DNA to rule me out as a suspect in a case where a rape took place at a party I attended. It saves the police time in considering me a suspect and from my point of view eliminates me as a suspect saving me time and grief. Yet though I gave my DNA for this specific reason, my DNA can be stored indefinitely. With increased EU level legislation around the sharing of data held by police and security forces such as the proposals on air passenger data retention, it is likely that at some point my DNA could be transferred to police forces outside of this jurisdiction if they felt it was necessary. Indefinite retention of DNA samples is not the international or European norm. And if, by the way, I choose to exert my right not to give a sample, does this make me more of a suspect? One assumes it does in practice whatever about in legal theory. Yet rights not exercised can fade away, overtaken by the ‘practice’ on the ground.

The second is that under the Bill the Forensic Science Laboratory can out-source or delegate responsibilities around the creation of the database to other parties inside or outside the state. In theory my DNA in the above case could be sampled by a person working for a private company hired by the Gardaí to carry out the taking of samples, sent to another private company who carry out the analysis and then stored with another private company who are responsible for the storage. There’s just no end to the gravy train for private companies being fattened up with the people’s money. Would these private companies be most concerned with ensuring my rights are protected or with maximising their profits by cutting corners? I think history can answer that for me.

And even if the proper safeguards are in place, what price incompetence? In November the British lost two computer discs with the personal details of every family with a child under the age of 16, containing the bank account and insurance details of a mere 25 million people. What price corruption? As we reported here in August Gardaí and other government officials routinely access confidential information which ends up in the hands of insurance companies, private investigators and the media.
The DNA database debate will, in all likelihood, be one that is ill-informed and hysterical in much the same way as the one on Anti Social Behaviour Orders, on which I remember no less a luminary than Gerry Ryan giving his two cents arguing that anyone opposed to them was supporting anti-social behaviour. But the IHRC, who are not opposing the idea of such a database, deserve to have their call for an informed debate heeded.


1. WorldbyStorm - December 29, 2007

What intrigues me is the fact that when ID cards were brought to the British cabinet there was a solid faction who considered that in the hands of an authoritarian regime such cards could be used against the people. No argument could be proffered to counter that particular line of attack, after all, who can tell the future. Same with DNA databases. ‘Voluntary’? Yeah, that’ll be the day…

Anyone who has any anti-statist feeling, or even just scepticism should think long and hard on this issue, indeed so should many many statists…


2. Tushar - December 29, 2007

United Nations Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking (UN.GIFT) was formally launched in London on 26 March 2007. It is designed to have a long-term impact to create a turning point in the worldwide fight against human trafficking. 27million people are trafficked each year. UN.GIFT intends to take action against human trafficking in all its manifestations – commercial sexual exploitation, bonded labour, organ trade, camel jockeying, forced marriages, domestic labour, illegal adoption, and other exploitative work – through creating partnerships at a global level with all sectors of society.

The ultimate goal of the Global Initiative is to contribute to ending human trafficking– estimated to have a total market value of about $32 billion worldwide. UNODC has a two-pronged strategy for achieving this goal – increasing public awareness of the problem and coordinating existing but disparate efforts by international and national groups, governments and non-governmental organizations and by concerned individuals to end the practice.

Numerous regional GIFT events will culminate in Vienna with a Global Forum against Human Trafficking from 13th to 15th Feb 2008.

The objective of The Vienna Forum is to raise awareness, facilitate cooperation and partnerships among the various stakeholders. It will bring together representatives from Member States, UN system organizations, other regional and international organizations, the business community, academia, non-governmental organizations and other elements of civil society. The Forum will allow for an open environment to enable all parties involved to take concrete steps to fight human trafficking, within their spheres of action.

The Forum will be a catalyst for solution-seeking ideas and address three overriding themes on human trafficking: 1.Vulnerability: why does human trafficking happen;
2. Impact: human and social consequences of human trafficking;
3. Action: innovative approaches to solving complex problems.
· It is time to join forces to prevent human trafficking.
· Give this global problem a global solution.
· Rally under the banner of the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking.
· Get involved!
· Together we can save people and put traffickers behind bars.

UN.GIFT website http://www.ungift.org aims to be an extension of UN GIFT activities worldwide. We would like it to evolve into a vibrant online community where people exchange views, showcase their work, talk about their experiences and strengthen the fight against human trafficking. With your help we can make it a valuable resource and a tool to take this fight forward. The organized crime of human trafficking needs a fitting organized response.



3. Barry - December 29, 2007

I agree with the scepticism expressed. It makes me wonder whether Ireland should not try to move on in this area and set up a body which will analyse upcoming legislation to a) see that it fits in with existing legislation, i.e won’t cause conflicts and b) that it is constitutional. In France they have the Conseil de l’Etat like our own Council of State, but it is a satutory body which examines legislation and sends it back to the Parliament if it is going to conflict or cause bother with existing laws and is in line with the constitution. We have a written constitution so why don’t we do this rather than have to wait for decisions by the Supreme Court??

It might also protect against the sort of nonsense that McDowall intoduced in passing, requiring telecoms companies to hold moble phone data for three years…..

Bye, Barry


4. Maolsheachlann O Ceallaigh - December 29, 2007

Are you frightened someone is going to clone you? The hypcorisy of anti-statist left-wingers is that they expect the state to have extensive powers and responsibilites but they also want to disable it as much as possible. I’m perfectly willing for the authorities to keep my DNA on file, as I see no danger in anybody possessing this information. Anyone can see what library books I borrow or what emails I send; I’m not doing anything wrong. I want the government to have the most extensive powers to protect me from those who ARE doing something wrong. And if the government does become “authoritarian”, I suspect DNA and identity cards might be the least of your worries.

So is it a question of principle? Let me ask you this: if you are going to insist on principles, what principles obliges the wealthy to redistribute their wealth to the needy? Abstract principles lead inevitably to neoliberalism and the free market. People who consider themselves left-wing should be more concerned with the creation of a desirable society. And a desirable society is one in which the police can protect you.

Any talk of “civil liberties” is individualist, right-wing and anti-social.


5. WorldbyStorm - December 29, 2007

I don’t see why you consider it hypocrisy M O C. In different spheres the state will have different levels of intervention/enabling/assistance, and within those spheres the levels will change over time. It’s case by case – or at least should be. And being an individualist is also part of the left as much as the right…

Re principles which ‘oblige’ the wealthy to redistribute? Perhaps not principles, but utilitarianism. Even centrist societies recognise the need for social stability. A highly inegalitarian social structure is a recipe for social instability.


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