Thursday, January 05, 2006

Catch Me if You can

I’m looking at the actual and forecast weather this morning and debating whether to pop across to Rochester to pick up fuel but I think I’ll pass. It’s quite flyable but it’s damp and cold and there’s a 30 per cent chance of snow across the western side of Kent this morning and another 30 per cent chance that I’ll flatten my battery trying to start an engine with cold oil. Here in Thanet we are more likely to get rain instead. If you look out of the window at the towering cumulus clouds, you’ll see what I mean The aircraft on the left is one I used to own before I became sensible and I miss it sometimes.

I see there’s a fuss in the Guardian newspaper and elsewhere over the size of the police DNA database and that a particular racial group appear to be over-represented. Perhaps it would instead be fairer if we all contributed a DNA sample in the interests of supporting law and order. After all, the police have reportedly caught 30,000 criminals through the simple expedient of matching-up their DNA against a hair, blood or any other tiny “biological” left at the scene of the crime and then simply gone looking for the owner at his or her last known address. Very CSI Miami..!

As the Register reports, "Home Office propaganda might lead the unwary to believe that DNA is the magic pixie dust that will solve all crime, but if you think about it, it quite obviously ain't so. People leak DNA wherever they go, which is an advantage for the investigator in the sense that it's extremely difficult for a criminal to be absolutely certain they didn't leave a trail, but a disadvantage because of the amount of leaked DNA 'noise' the world is full of. Burglars and car thieves will tend to leave less DNA at the scene than the usual inhabitants, and as their awareness of DNA matching climbs, they'll leave less still, because they'll be more careful. They will also be more likely to leave false trails (e.g., as police have been beginning to note, random cigarette butts in stolen cars), or to plant evidence (note that it's a lot easier to plant DNA than fingerprints). "

While I worry about the introduction of ID cards and other Home Office measures that appear to threaten our freedoms in a democratic society, I don’t see a DNA database as such a threat, if and it’s a very big “If” the information is used and shared properly and responsibly. However, when you think that the DVLA is quite prepared to sell your address, from your number plate to private parking and often “cowboy” clamping companies, there is that niggling worry that one can’t trust an organisation as large and inefficient as government or perhaps even the police, to use a national DNA database only for the purpose for which it was intended.

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