Deadly Non-neutral Acid? (DNA)

If you’re like me, you’ve been fingerprinted when entering or leaving the United States as a foreigner. Then you knew that the US government had you identified by everything you ever touched in the US. Whether it be a snack bar in a supermarket or your touching your date’s face before he/she was found murdered.

Now, the anti-criminalization policies have gone one step further. Forget foreigners. If you are a suspect in a crime and are arrested, the US government has the cheek to swab your inside cheek to take a sample of your DNA to add to their database. Forget if you’re guilty or not. That is apparently immaterial.

I’m surprised that all the privacy groups who worry about Internet data gathering, browser cookies, browsing history, online search history records, etc. by Google and other software companies are keeping mum about this issue. This is your DNA we’re talking about – nothing can be more personal than that. And to let the government collect and store your DNA even if you’re innocent – what more intrusion of privacy can there be? Is that how socio-cultural issues work – the Internet makes news, conventional stuff doesn’t?

In other news, you can now (apparently) check if you suffer from bipolar disorder by ordering a test “spit kit” from Psynomics. They will test your DNA and will mail you the test results. We already have pregnancy tests for women, sugar-level tests for diabetics, and blood pressure checkers readily available even in third-world countries like India. Is technology moving diagnosis more and more from physicians to consumers? Will consumers be able to assess if they need a cardiac bypass surgery or an appendectomy by themselves? Will physician’s diagnoses become obsolete some day in the future? Something to ponder about.


26 thoughts on “Deadly Non-neutral Acid? (DNA)

  1. I would feel very very odd if someone fingerprinted me. In fact this thing is on my mind because I plan to visit the U.S in the next few years to see my friends. I hear the experiences of people and it gives me a very uncomfortable feeling. However justified they are in doing it, one can’t help feeling uneasy. It also depends how they do it. Are they professional, are they rude, are they kind, are they cold, are they apologetic, are they condescending, do they treat you like a criminal?
    Sometimes the attitude goes a long way in making us feel better…

  2. Hi Mahendra! So far as I know, there is no government on earth with an unsullied record when it comes to respecting the civil liberties of its citizens and guests. Governments are not the friends of rights and liberties. So, it appalls me that the US Government is now collecting genetic information even on people who are merely suspected of a crime. I must doubt there are adequate safeguards in place these days to insure the information is not misused.

    Frankly, I think America has become a nation of wimps. That is, we have come to value our security over our liberties. Franklin warned us about that, and he pointed out that, by taking that course, we are likely to get neither security nor liberty.

    As for myself, I’ve thought about this for some time, and I have decided I would rather die at the hands of a terrorist than live without rights and freedoms in my own home.

  3. Nita: Thanks for the quick comment! 🙂 I’m surprised you haven’t been fingerprinted in India yet. The Indian government is worse with regards to privacy because of obvious reasons. *Any* legal agreement, that is supposed to stand valid in court, needs to be registered, and the registration process involves fingerprinting! This mostly applies to property deals as those constitute the maximum number of legal agreements. So if you decide to buy an apartment or rent out your apartment, you’ve to get your agreement registered, and that involves fingerprinting!

    Regarding the attitude of the fingerprinters in the US, my wife and I went through this process when it was relatively new. They were extremely helpful and friendly, and made us feel very comfortable. This was unlike the security procedures at the airport where they treated us like criminals and stopped short of asking us to remove our underwear. ‘Nuff said.

    Ankur: That was true till now. Check the link and see for yourself what’s going to happen now.

    Paul: You spoke my mind. But in these days, when credit card information is stolen, how long can DNA information be protected? Your noting of Franklin was exactly what has been on my mind for a long time, it is surprising how you seem to read my thoughts. Any society that gives up liberty towards increasing security will achieve neither – these are immortal words for me.

    Your thoughts exactly reflect mine. Cheers for that!

  4. Well, I never thought of that as fingerprinting as the purpose is different. But actually I don’t remember doing this. We did buy a place in the year 2001 in Pune, and we went to register the place and I remember that clearly. However the actual procedure is blank in my mind. Just shows that we do so many things blindly, without even thinking.

  5. Nita: I doubt if the fingerprinting procedure existed in India (Pune) in 2001 – I think it did not. So no surprises about yuour memory…

  6. @ Mahendrap:

    Way back in the 1960s, Alan Westin wrote a book called Privacy And Freedom. Since you bring up this important nexus in this post, I would recommend you read the book. I have a dog-eared original copy printed in the 1960s which I found with great difficulty so good luck is in order.

    I am a privacy pragmatist, a taxonomical term I borrow from Westin although he does not quite use it in the sense I am about to. Can you imagine how many TBs of data is collected at the US borders, from legitimate visitors, while several hundred thousand sneak in across the borders of Texas? Oh I digress. Back to the tera-bytes of data. Knowing how agencies work – or rather do not work – making sense of a drop of information from these oceans of information is quite hard. Which is why I do not scoff at the fingerprint being taken. Indeed if there is a problem, the TSA officers do give it their best shot to resolve it. On a recent visit, I noticed that the panels reading the prints have changed. Accordingly a ring on my right hand interfered with a perfect all-lights-green printing. The officer was at pains to resolve it and finally I removed my ring and the print was all-green.

    Why just the US?

    The UK is the most watched-on-camera country. It has helped solve a large number of murders in the recent years but now we are photographed so often it does not beggar belief. The new Heathrow T5 also now photographs all travellers as Gatwick always did.

    Then again on genetic screening, I have objections to screening not accompanied by counselling. I am lazy so I do not want to type out my exact views on it but my rapid response to a BMJ article on the issue can be seen here:

  7. Everytime i enter the US they fingerprint me. Makes me feel like a cow.
    Not that they insult you, but the all too apparent suspicious attitude is a big turn off.
    But i guess thats the price the rest of us have to pay when some people abuse their civil liberties for destructive purposes.

  8. I suggest this is a kind of phenomenon: People in this world care little about their biology, very often. It is like they do not react to some things and keep their mouths shut for whatever reason. Example: The girl next door has been heard crying one eve and next morning, she would be seen violated … Something funny is happening in this society; ten percent of the world population live in relative wealth and do not care about the majority of 90%, who waste away and hunger. I think the psyche is a very strong factor in biology.

  9. I think in future due course, the US government is going to collect blood of the foreigners who are entering their country to safe guard their citizens…

  10. I do not think, that it is something wrong to give your finger prints, or dna to the government. If everybody gave them it, the forensic search for criminals would be easier.
    As you said. If you touch your girlfriend and she is murdered, the thing, that you were her boyfriend is a good reason why there are your prints. Also if there were other marks on her containing DNA of another person, they would find the murder immediately.

  11. Hello Mahendra,

    I came here to let you know that I tagged you…twice. Um…pretty sure I am supposed to put a link here;I am not very aware of the procedure. Anyway, it is over at my page.

    But, now that I am here…

    I agree with Paul’s general statement about putting security over privacy. So, it is difficult for me not to lump this under the “America’s irrational fear of…everything…is being validated and (in some cases) created by the political climate and mainstream media” argument. Which, I am sooooo fond of. But, it is an easy out really. Most of us are aware of the paranoia that epitomizes American culture.

    If I put that argument aside and look at this from the “prevention or adjudication of crime” angle, I still don’t think that taking DNA swabs is appropriate. Mainly because the value of the information obtained (to society) is overshadowed by the privacy loss implicit in taking a person’s DNA.

    You mentioned all of the medical aspects. Does the government have a right to catalogue my diseases? What about my personality traits? Do I want “a genetic me” to be filed away in a database somewhere? I think not.

    DNA evidence, as used in criminal court cases, is still subject to the flaws of…well…the scientific method. Unfortunately, most people do not know what the proposition “the flaws of the scientific method” means, much less the implications of those flaws. So, they blindly believe that anything “scientific” must “real” and this has lead people down some unfortunate paths. Personally, I do not want a government (or a society for that matter) to have access to my DNA when most of the people using that data don’t even know what DNA is, how it operates, what we know and – more importantly don’t know – about it; not to mention that they would not have a reasonable understanding of the method used to discover, analyse and discuss DNA in the first place (i.e. the scientific method).

    Sorry, got of an a rant there. The upshot is, I don’t want a group of scientifically ignorant individuals gaining access to information they do not know how to utilise.

  12. Mahendra, the result of all this strictness is that Americans haven’t suffered any terrorist attack after 9/11.The debate is between privacy and security.
    //Will consumers be able to assess if they need a cardiac bypass surgery or an appendectomy by themselves? Will physician’s diagnoses become obsolete some day in the future? Something to ponder about//not a bad idea!With all that commercialisation of medical profession it is difficult to trust the intentions of doctors these days.

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  14. @Nita: I recently bought a house, I was made to give prints for all my 10 fingers both during initial agreement and later registration. This is now a standard procedure and came into being about 2 years ago.

    @Ankur: You know the first part of your post that my DNA sample will be kept irrespective of the fact I am guilty or not rankles me a lot. In fact, I am suppressing the irrational fears of getting my identity sabotaged and misused (blame it on Hollywood and likes of Sheldons and Cooks). Do we have no right to protest this, why should they retain our DNA?

  15. My first time here…
    If our DNA helps in proving we are not guilty, then well and good! Forensic science relies heavily on DNA analyses as a reliable method to identify the perpetrator of a crime. If one is a suspect, then I don’t see anything wrong in the police collecting their DNA and fingerprints. If someone’s girlfriend or spouse is murdered they are automatically suspects anyway, until proven innocent!

    What I am rather concerned about is how they fingerprint every foreign national entering the USA, and how the US government can monitor anyone’s phone calls etc. Now that is invasion of privacy. But is the government completely wrong for being over cautious? Maybe it is stretching the limits, but if the terrorists enter with student Visas what choice does the government have?
    I use a gamma irradiator for my studies and as recent as last week, everyone (even Americans) using that equipment was fingerprinted and their backgrounds checked by the FBI!! Now that is a stretch…

    Here in the USA, every single place we go to, be it the DMV, or a doctor’s office etc., one has to provide their SSN (social security number) which is almost as important as DNA. I find it very uncomfortable to see my SSN lying around in an office somewhere…I consider that a nuisance.

    Regarding self-testing and self-medicating..
    Yup, some standard tests can be done by people at home, but I feel that a doctor’s diagnosis cannot be substituted by a few tests. Already with the information available on the internet people are diagnosing illness by themselves. This can be very misleading…But if the day comes when people can figure out what’s wrong with them without consulting a physician, I think doctors might be spending their time training for much advanced medical procedures…They have to retain their place in the society after all!

    My comment is longer than your post 🙂 !!

  16. hibernating …..!!!

    Yeah yeah…with all this techie stuff going on…things still happen or should I say go wrong…!
    Personally -I dont mind (atleast it has not hurt my sensibilities so far)

  17. hi the last one was in Apr08? its going to be navratri here soon, come out-post-lets all be happy together!!:-)and pple are not diagnosing, its just a test, Mahendra o and there were 13blasts the other day here in my city-nobdy batted an eyelid, not a shutter was down even for half a day here, but I wish everybdy wd get printed and they wd do somthng fast bef they blow unmendable holes everywhere, byt the way why r all blasts confined to the western divide?what do u thnk? I was trying to goback and read archives,cdnt do it very well but it seems like theres an imaginary vertical.NE? never been blasts like this there, in 2 civil hospitals etc

  18. film after film passing by – when do we get to read ur take on em? why didnt my smiley open up in ur space? bad spacing or wrong code? n I do NOT look down upon ppl, just get away when am too full or fear being trampled or be snared like a hapless bird.

  19. Hi,
    I completely agree with Paul’s viewpoint– and think there are lots of things that have come to pass in the last couple of years that are atrociously breaching our rights (Obama’s enemy combatant policy, reinforcing what he said he would nullify regarding Bush’s terrorism act:
    , etc.)

    #2 Also think there is an important distinction that was not made regarding policy in this blog. Not everyone who is being arrested is swabbed for DNA but only those arrested who are suspected for crimes on a FEDERAL level. This rules out the vast majority of the people going through the system… Just thought I would point it out, please don’t think I’m nit-picky.

  20. Hi HavahNegila,
    Welcome to my blog. The Gitmo situation is quite complex and is a long-standing blemish on what the US is supposed to stand for. I do not know much about the recent actions taken by Obama, and can only hope that the situation improves over time.

    Thank you for the distinction – it is quite important in the American context. As an Indian, I am not used to differentiating between state and federal crimes – in India, a crime is a crime, an arrest is an arrest, and a prison is a jail, not a ‘correctional facility’. Individual states do not have their own versions of the law, and there is no separate Federal law. Your comment is very much appreciated, it’s not at all nit-picky!

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