Spending Money Hand Over Fist

Most of our readers here at The Chicago Boyz not only hail from the United States, but also identify themselves as Libertarians. You guys don’t know how good you’ve got it.

Why do I say that? Libertarians, big “L” or otherwise, seem to be concerned with keeping civil liberties intact. Vigilance must be eternal in order to keep the government from overreaching and trampling on our freedoms. For example, if the FBI insisted on taking and filing the fingerprints of everyone, including newborns, it would be seen as an infringement of privacy. There is just no reasonable justification for the expense and trouble of compiling a database of average law abiding citizens.

All well and good in the good ol’ US of A, but there is a rather alarming development in Old Blighty that has caused me to sit up and take notice.

It seems that the Home Office in Great Britain has compiled the largest DNA database in the entire world, not only in raw numbers but also in the percentage of population which has been included. According to the official figures found on the government webpage linked to above, “By the end of 2005 over 3.4 million DNA profiles were held on the database…” This dwarfs the approximately 1.5 million profiles that are to be found in all the DNA databases in the United States, even though we have about five times the population. The Home Office proudly claims that 5.2% of the entire population of England now has a copy of their DNA filed away in their database, and it might well be over 8% by now.

I knew that the British government had invested heavily in DNA matching technology, but I had no idea that they had gone so far! They say with pride that £300 million was spent on the scheme.

The situation seems to have changed in 2001. Prior to that year, the system would not have been out of place here in the US. The police could only take samples during an active investigation, and both the genetic material and records had to be destroyed if charges were not filed, or if there was an acquittal. Now it is legal for the police to take a sample from anyone arrested for a “recordable offense and detained in a police station”.

People who have worked in law enforcement will recognize that this is similar to the US policy concerning fingerprints. If someone is arrested, they are routinely printed in order to establish identity. After all, people wanted for various offenses will routinely lie about who they are. Comparing the fingerprints of someone detained against the database will quickly determine if there are outstanding warrants against them.

But that isn’t what the DNA database is used for. Instead it is used exclusively as a crime scene tool, usually by eliminating a suspect by determining if that is, indeed, their DNA littering the area. The authorities in England seem to have the idea that the percentage of crimes solved will be similar to the percentage of population who have had their DNA collected.

This would be reason enough to compile such a database and increase the number of people included, but this entry at the unofficial UK Libertarian Blog points out that the number of crimes solved using DNA flatlined years ago. As they so succinctly state, “Increasing the size of the database is not increasing its usefulness in tackling crime.” In fact, such methods are only useful in about one out of every three hundred crimes.

This makes perfect sense when one considers that the vast majority of crimes, even violent crime, never leave any DNA evidence to be gathered. Think muggings, burglaries, armed robberies, and simple assault. The perp might well have shed a few hairs as he ran away after holding up the convenience store clerk, but it would be extremely costly and time consuming to find and then extract DNA from every hair to be found on the floor of a shop that is open to the public.

The situations where such a database would prove useful would be if there was a rape, or a murder where a fight took place as the victim struggled for their lives. Crimes such as that are rather rare, and they tend to be committed by a very small percentage of extremely dangerous criminals. Building a DNA database of people convicted of crimes such as these would certainly justify the expense and trouble. But it makes very little sense to obtain a sample from everyone arrested, no matter how insignificant the crime which leads to that arrest.

Like I said before, the government brags that they have spent over £300 million on their DNA scheme, and this is at a time when the UK military is facing equipment shortages and reliability problems while engaged in a shooting war. Couldn’t the cash be used to better effect?

And that is the real problem. To be frank, I’m not really sure why the UK government is spending the money considering that it isn’t very cost effective at solving crimes. The only thing I can think of is that they view their own people with a great deal of suspicion, and expect that just about everyone will explode into violence at some time in their lives.

(Hat tip to Milo.)

7 thoughts on “Spending Money Hand Over Fist”

  1. It’s often easier to buy a technological solution to a problem (or an imagined technological solution) than to deal with the cultural-structural-human issues that really need to be dealt with. For example, many U.S. corporations spend hundreds of millions of dollars on “business intelligence systems” while failing to empower their front-line employees to share and act upon the real “business intelligence” that they already possess. Maybe something similar is happening here.

  2. Also, the bigger the database the bigger the problem of false positives. This is why the US “no fly” and terrorist-watch lists are a joke. As an increasingly large fraction of the non-criminal population finds its way into databases, the number of people falsely identified as possible bad guys starts to overwhelm real bad guys. If this problem becomes bad enough these databases can cause more problems than they solve.

  3. If someone is arrested, they are routinely printed in order to establish identity… Instead it is used exclusively as a crime scene tool, usually by eliminating a suspect by determining if that is, indeed, their DNA littering the area.

    DNA is following the same evolution as did fingerprinting.

    Fingerprinting also started out as a special purpose forensic tool used on case by case basis. Only in the 1930’s did law enforcement start to compile databases of fingerprints. Routine fingerprinting did not become common nation wide until the mid-50’s.

    The situations where such a database would prove useful would be if there was a rape, or a murder where a fight took place as the victim struggled for their lives.

    As the technology improves, DNA can be lifted from increasingly small biological samples. In the past few years, DNA as been lifted from normally shedded skin cells left behind when a suspect merely touched an object.

    I think that going forward, we can expect that DNA will become the ultimate form of ID. Unlike fingerprinting, which requires that a human examine a fingerprint and input it’s characteristics into a computer, DNA analysis can be completely automated. We will probably all live to see a day when people consider it normal to provide DNA to confirm identity for major transactions/interactions.

    None of this is to say, however, that a vast criminal justice database is a good idea. If you take far more samples than you actually use, Bayers law says that your false positives will eventually swamp the system and render it useless. So, just based on the mathematics, restricting the database to known criminals is a good idea.

    I think they’re doing so because technology solutions seem very neat and tidy compared to human factor solutions. The reliability of forensics is wildly exaggerated in the public mind due in part by the stunning successes in forensic DNA matching. That makes it a good sell to the public who views it as an objective and powerful criminal justice tool.

  4. I would add that the £300M might be worth it if the system worked well. But it doesn’t work well, and (like other systems of this type, such as red-light cameras here in the States) it’s being promoted by people with private agendas that conflict with the interests of most UK residents.

  5. James,

    I am going to apologise up front for the length of this comment.

    It is not just the collection and cost that concerns us here in the UK, and we do not have a problem with DNA collection for those who are convicted of crime.

    However we should note that DNA is collected and stored for virtually anyone who comes into contact with the police, from those arrested for mugging and serious crime, to those who drop litter.

    It is also collected from witnesses and also the victims.

    Once that DNA that is collected and stored, it is then to be stored for a period of 100 years.

    The police technology body the NPIA along with the Association of Chief Police Officer, the ACPO have decided that they can now do stuff with this DNA that wasnt thought of before.

    The DNA is regularly used for trawling, looking for for specific genetic traits, i.e. family members or groups.
    The DNA is being sold to research groups for unknown purposes.
    The DNA is being sold to insurance groups for unknown purposes.

    To cap it all, there is no legal base on which the DNA database is founded, it is not covered in any law. The Police are now petitioning the government to give them Legislative protection.

    In isolation, it may be argued that DNA retention would be useful to the Police in their work. However, put it against the background of everything else going on in the UK, and it becomes impossible to ignore the more sinister overtones of dictatorship.

    It is very easy to formulate an argument for single items, for things that only affect a very small proportion of the population, which is how the salami slicing works.

    However, when we put it all together, 26,000 new laws, 3000 new criminal offences, then the laws are not for the good of the people, or for their protection but for the good of the state.

    That is the balance that needs to be redressed.

    For those who have not yet joined up all the dots, here is a list, albeit incomplete showing how you have eroded our rights and freedoms, for a perceived security that we have never needed before, and one that we do not believe we need now.

    The 2006/2007 report by Privacy International tells us that The UK is now joint 1st place as the most surveilled country in the world, alongside Russia, China, Singapore and Malaysia.

    Then we have the databases. UKLiberty tells us these are just the major ones, there are loads more public sector databases:

    1. ContactPoint is to record our interactions with state agencies from the day we are born until we are 18;

    2. the National Identity Register takes over at 18 (even earlier if the child is given a passport), recording our names, addresses, and so on, as well as every interaction that requires us to prove our identity (from collecting a parcel at the Post Office to getting a new job to using non-emergency health care to crossing international borders) – also we will each be assigned an identity number, which will be used as an index in other databases (that is, if I am 10365 in the NIR, someone could draw together all the data on 10365 from all the other databases to find out everything about me – precedent suggests this isn’t a good idea);

    3. the Department for Work and Pensions Longitudinal Study links tax, social security, benefit, pension, ISA, TESSA, PEP information with names and addresses;

    4. the Intercept Modernisation Programme is to record every detail of our communications (except for the content, probably only because this would be practically impossible), who we talk to, when, for how long, and using what (see Article 5 European Data Retention Directive);

    5. the ANPR is to record all our vehicle journeys nationally and the PNR (see also this and this) is to record all our international journeys (currently its just journeys by air);

    6. the NHS medical records database, with our names, addresses, medical issues, health care workers etc;

    7. the CRB database and the Independent Safeguarding Authority database, which not only have details of our proven convictions (which I have no problem with) but also unsubstantiated allegations;

    8. the National DNA Database, which is recording the DNA of not only convicted criminals and suspects, but also innocent people including volunteers and witnesses, along with other details.

    All adding up to an almost complete picture of our lives – and all for our own good, of course.

    Do not forget that the information collection for marketing purposes by Corporate institutions, whether Google or Tesco, is a further part of the erosion of the liberty of action with unseen monitoring or intervention.

    Tesco have just been given a government contract to collect DNA and Bio-metric data from the public in their supermarkets. The using of private companies to collect this data is just insidious.
    n.b. Tesco already operates the largest private database on people profiling in Europe.

    Now lets look at just a selection of those 26,000 new laws, 3000 new criminal offences, and see how the rights and freedoms have been lost.

    Abolishes a suspect’s right to silence (by permitting Courts and Juries to draw inference from a suspect’s refusal to disclose matters to the Police at the time of arrest.

    POLICE ACT 1997
    Allows the police to break into property and install electronic surveillance.The chief constable can make such authorisations.

    The occupier of the property need not be under suspicion of a crime. The decisions can be taken without a warrant. (Sections 91 to 108)

    First facilitation of ASBO’s and the conception of causing Harassment, which makes everyday perfectly legal activities illegal for the target subject.

    Distress or Alarm. Introduction of Parenting Orders and Curfews on Offenders released on Licence.

    Among other matters, facilitating the establishment of Detention Centres.

    Definition of “terrorism” close to catch-all..
    The government can proscribe organisations or persons without having to prove that they have committed any offence.

    Authorises Surveillance and disclosure of Communications largely without warrant.

    Authorities able to do so range from any Police Force to include any Local Authority and the FSA. (now extended to over 700 organisations).

    Enables courts to place banning orders on people, prohibiting them from travelling when a football match is on, without proving they committed an offence.

    Allows the police to prevent a person without a banning order from leaving the country if the police have “reasonable grounds” for believing the person may cause trouble at a football match.

    Enables the Health Secretary to authorise disclosure of confidential patient information to anyone he chooses if he believes it is in the public interest or will improve patient care.

    Allows government departments and public bodies to disclose confidential information to police forces for the purposes of investigations of any crime anywhere in the world.

    Permits the Home Secretary to certify any foreigner as an “international terrorist” if he/she decides that they are a risk to national security.

    Terrorism is defined as in the Terrorism Act 2000.
    Section 29 prevents courts from challenging the detention of foreigners under sections 21 – 26,.

    Officials authorised by local councils and the Department of Work and Pensions can demand that banks, credit card companies, utility companies, any company providing financial services and phone companies hand over any data they think is necessary for the purposes of preventing or detecting benefit fraud, without a warrant.

    These officials can also demand that telecommunications companies tell them who owns a particular account, when given only a number or electronic address associated with the account, again without a warrant.

    Under this Act, the Criminal Assets Recovery Agency is set up and in Part 5, it is given the power to seize a person’s assets via civil procedures in court. (now updated to allow police to seize assets and bank accounts BEFORE charge or conviction).

    This law applies civil proceedings to a dispute between the state and an individual, with the state as the adjudicator.

    Extends the thinking behind ASBOS and includes premises closure,
    obligations on landlords, parenting orders, dispersal of groups, public assemblies (the 1986 Public Order definition of an assembly reduced from 20 to 2).

    Part 2 – unratified treaty with USA. No prima facie evidence required for extraditions from the UK to the USA, but still required for USA to UK extraditions.

    Part 1 of the Act implements the similar European Arrest Warrant extraditions.

    There is no requirement for evidence to be heard before a UK Court.
    Also refer to the Home Office website.

    Facilitates the elimination of Juries from complex fraud cases.
    Removes “double jeopardy”. Permits hearsay evidence.

    Authorises any cabinet minister to make “emergency regulations” Emergency regulations may make any provision that can be made by Royal Prerogative or Act of Parliament…..

    the FIRST of the real shifts towards Enabling Act thinking.

    Under this Act, the government can impose “control orders” on anyone they suspect might be involved in “terrorism-related” activity.

    The person subjected to a control order does not get a trial, is not charged with anything, and may have the evidence or accusations against them withheld from them or their lawyers.

    Terrorism is defined as in Section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000

    Sets up the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).

    All offences, no matter how trivial, are now arrestable, granting powers to obtain DNA, intimate samples, fingerprints and photographs of those arrested, to be retained on file regardless of whether the suspect is charged with or convicted of an offence. (Don’t discard your cigarette butt).

    Protesters, even a single protester, must apply at least 24 hours (and more normally 6 days) in advance for a permit to protest within 1km of Parliament, or any other designated place.

    Originally drafted in terms which would have made this an Enabling Act, the diluted text with some safeguards introduced remains the second part of Enabling Act thinking.

    By this, Ministers can, with minimal Parliamentary scrutiny, modify and enact regulations, interpretations, resources targeting and law.

    Further powers tor restrict the rights of immigrants and asylum seekers.

    Sections 56 and 57 modify the British Nationality Act (1981) to permit the Home Secretary to deprive a person of citizenship or the right of abode.

    Further clarification of offences of glorification etc.
    Extends detention period. (currently 28 days, government planning further attempt at 42 days).

    Well publicised. Well, just Read and weep.

    I could go on, and on, there is just so much more.

    If I began to start listing all the abuses of the above legislation, being used for purposes other than it was designed then this posting would be so long……

    I could mention the Orwellian Newspeak introduced by NuLabour, I could mention the Targeted Messaging and propaganda, I could mention the perpetual war against an ever changing enemy, I could mention the big brother TV Licencing warning ads, I could mention that every Government department now encourages you to shop your neighbour, I could mention government sponsored health facists telling us what to eat and drink, how to live, I could mentioned a lost count of bans for things from fox hunting to smoking, I could mention local authorities using children to spy on parents, I could mention that we may no longer simply live by the rule of law, but by legislation for everything we do, legislation for everything we cannot do, and legislation for what we might do. No longer free thought, the state will do that for you.

    The State does not need this information, the State abuses this information, and the State has no right to this information.

    It seems that our leaders (sic) so far removed from reality that they cannot see what harm they do.

    Again, sorry for the length of this comment, but it is not until people begin to join the dots and produce lists like this one, that you will see just how big the problem is.

    Remember that the public out there soon forgets the arguments over legislation that were had last year.

    Thank you for listening.
    Ian Parker-Joseph
    Leader – Libertarian Party UK

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