Friday, July 9, 2010

Racial Profiling & DNA

Grim Sleeper Arrest Fuels Debate Over DNA:

Only two states, Colorado and California, have a codified policy permitting a so-called familial search, the use of DNA samples taken from convicted criminals to track down relatives who may themselves have committed a crime. It is a practice that district attorneys and the police say is an essential tool in catching otherwise elusive criminals, but that privacy experts criticize as a threat to civil liberties.

This week, law enforcement struck a significant blow for the practice when the Los Angeles Police Department used it to arrest a man who they say murdered at least 10 residents here over 25 years. It is the first time an active familial search has been used to solve a homicide case in the United States.

In other words, they took DNA from one of this guy's kids (who himself was arrested on an unrelated felony), ran his DNA through a series of matrices, and found a link between the homicide victims and his DNA. Not a match, but a "familial pattern" that suggested he might be related to the possible killer. Then they nailed the father.

Sounds good and exciting and right out of an episode of CSI, except for one thing: that pesky old document called the Constitution.

Those who oppose the technique argue that there are inherent privacy concerns, and that it serves, in essence, as a form of racial profiling because a higher proportion of inmates are members of minorities.

“I can imagine lots of African-American families would think it is not fair to put a disproportionate number of black families under permanent genetic surveillance,” said Jeffrey Rosen, a law professor at George Washington University who has written about this issue.

Further, Mr. Rosen said, if other jurisdictions were not as strict at California about the technique’s application — expanding it to nonviolent crimes, for instance — the issue would be even more complex. “The technique is not inherently good or evil,” he said. “It all has to do with what crimes it is used for, who’s in the database, how the database is regulated and what is done with the samples.”
Or let me re-frame the debate: are we collecting DNA samples of white-collar criminals? Should we run familial testing for corporate or political crimes? Are databases of DNA information being built around Wall Street and the thugs who brought down the economy?

That's what I thought. This is another example, not only of racial profiling, but of class profiling, for it is only the lower classes who disproportionately come in contact with law enforcement, and thus come under this kind of intrusive sampling and data collection. And it is only minority populations who will be harassed with this "breakthrough" technology, per the usual.

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