Bembel-B Blog


The digital citizen and DNA samples by its authorities

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Yesterday I read an intriguing article on vast private databases profiling individuals in detail and how these databases are being merged and used by the industry and authorities. And on the same day more by accident I stumbled upon an article about possible, yet to be voted on by the Senate, new practices to collect DNA samples by US authorities.

physician and nurse examine a tuberculosis positive chest x-ray The above mentioned articles:

Here’s some citation of the Washington Post article. The text is Copyright of the source named above. The citation should fall under the “fair use” clause and is thereby considered legal.

Suspects arrested or detained by federal authorities could be forced to provide samples of their DNA that would be recorded in a central database under a provision of a Senate bill to expand government collection of personal data.

The controversial measure was approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee last week and is supported by the White House, but has not gone to the floor for a vote. It goes beyond current law, which allows federal authorities to collect and record samples of DNA only from those convicted of crimes. The data are stored in an FBI-maintained national registry that law enforcement officials use to aid investigations, by comparing DNA from criminals with evidence found at crime scenes.


The provision, co-sponsored by Kyl and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.), does not require the government to automatically remove the DNA data of people who are never convicted. Instead, those arrested or detained would have to petition to have their information removed from the database after their cases were resolved.

Privacy advocates are especially concerned about possible abuses such as profiling based on genetic characteristics.


I don’t want to further summarize these articles at this point, as you best read them yourself.
Especially for Non-German speaking readers: The Telepolis article mentioned above is about two English books on collection of personal data in private databases and its use.

So, following are some additions and ideas about the topics.

German privacy laws limiting use and distribution of personal data only to cases being inherently necessary (Zweckbindung), like name and address for an invoice, can be “circumvented” by having a branch office in a less restrictive country.

In Germany since about 1997 it is allowed to record so called DNA fingerprints only of criminals being sentenced for heavy crimes e.g. pedastry, rape, murder, dangerous violent behavior, terrorism, burglary, criminal action as a gang member. But in January 2005 there came up the public discussion on widening this practice to all people being suspected for crimes when they have to be added (profile, photo, fingerprints) to the central police profile databases (erkennungsdienstliche Behandlung) and possibly to generally switch from DNA fingerprints to DNA samples.

Among others the German Minister of the Interior Otto Schily liked that idea of widening DNA records very much. Minister of Justice Brigitte Zypries found it to conflict with the constitutional rights of individual freedom and privacy and she saw the danger of hard to prevent misuse. So far these ideas did not enter the legislative process in Germany.
The practice seems to be quite identical in Germany and the USA. But the difference is that the DNA collection of mere suspects now got into the legislative process in the US.

Difference between DNA fingerprints and DNA samples is that DNA samples will hold the whole genome in detail, whereas DNA fingerprints, in German practice, represent “only” a 16-digit derivation of 8 distinct genes’ values.

I totally stand against the idea of Social Darwinism, but many diseases like drug (and alcohol) addiction or mental disorders are found to be precursored by an individual’s genes. It also makes possible to track the genealogy of people otherwise not being obvious.
Just a satirical over-dramatization now, but maybe they’ll soon find a communist gene and we’ll be right back in the era of anti-communist witch hunts. Or one might monitor people potentionally being too intelligent and critical in their views.
And collection of DNA records is not limited to state authorities. The private industry has also high interest in collecting this sort of data, for example the insurance sector. In respect to the common practice of profiling all kind of other personal data and exchanging it with state authorities and private sector and even private individuals, these tendencies open up a whole new dimension of governmental and private totalitarism.

Some links that might be of interest:

Copyright notice

The photograph showing a physician and a nurse examining a tuberculosis positive chest x-ray used in this entry is in the public domain and thus free of any copyright restrictions. The content is provided by Charles Farmer and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and has the Public Health Image Library (PHIL) ID# 2466.


[2005-09-26: Add photograph of a physician and a nurse examining a tuberculosis positive chest x-ray with Copyright notes. Beautify text and date formatting.]
[2006-04-23: Add tags.]

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