Just because I'm paranoid....

Well, yes, but just because I may be being paranoid, it doesn’t mean they’re not out to get us! There I was reading, on the suggestion of the Free Think Blog a perfectly innocent article on free will and neurology and then more came up against the implications of a DNA database that captures innocent people’s DNA.

From the Economist – on their article on neurology and free will.

“At the moment, the criminal law—in the West, at least—is based on the idea that the criminal exercised a choice: no choice, no criminal. The British government, though, is seeking to change the law in order to lock up people with personality disorders that are thought to make them likely to commit crimes, before any crime is committed.

Such disorders are serious pathologies. But the National DNA Database being built up by the British government (which includes material from many innocent people), would already allow the identification of those with milder predispositions to anger and violence. How soon before those people are subject to special surveillance? And if the state chose to carry out such surveillance, recognising that the people in question may pose particular risks merely because of their biology, it could hardly then argue that they were wholly responsible for any crime that they did go on to commit.”

I suppose I’m getting some comfort from the fact that I keep picking up references to the wider implications of this DNA database in the media and so hopefully, it might start to snowball into something, but am I the only person noticing how close we’re getting to Big Brother (and that’s the Orwellian version) here?


Helen Sparkles said...
2 Jan 2007, 17:05:00

Jo, I am honoured that you have linked me to your blog; I just popped in & saw it there!

I do have some concerns, but I also had the pleasure of meeting one of the researchers putting the database together, in the hope that it would avoid another Victoria Climbié. Not everyone would have access to everything, but it could create more partnership working, particularly between health & social care. Good communication is problematic across the professions, if only due to shift patterns, and the database could make a very positive contribution towards meeting some of the demand so the Climbié enquiry.

At some point we have to trust some who use the database, as well as realise they won't be politicians but the professionals we do otherwise trust. Some details will have more of a stigma attached than others, which could alter over time, particularly if we are more open. Some people might just want privacy whatever their records say, but I suspect those people are quite happy to arrive at a hospital anywhere in the country, safe in the knowledge that doctors can access any pre-existing conditions for their medical benefit.

I am less happy about the DNA database, my biggest issue being that nothing is ever destroyed, even when people are cleared. That makes me uncomfortable, particularly when I imagine it is skewed in the same way that there are a hugely disproportionate number of young black men in the mental health system. I am sure it is not as simplistic as racism, a word which could complicate matters as well as creating resistance, but some people’s behaviour is interpreted as threatening, whether they are stopped by an officer to be questioned or sectioned. It would seem to be a matter of some importance that this is explored & understood.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
3 Jan 2007, 10:37:00

Helen, how nice to see you here!

I do understand about agencies working together to protect children, so in terms of creating a database I see how it makes technical sense to provide each child with a unique identifier.

But I am concerned with these sorts of databases being linked to other sorts not necessarily related to child protection.

I am also concerned about what is done with the information once a child is an adult.

The DPA safeguards our information from companies that wish to use it, but the government wants to be different and keep all the info, metaphorically 'in its pocket' just in case it might need it one day.

Just one more thing about the changes needed to protect children. Databases won't make people working in healthcare and social services change their behaviour and create networks of people etc. All sorts of organisations often make the mistake that putting in a piece of technology will solve the problem. Databases can only facilitate the sharing of information but 'the professionals' need to approach their work collaboratively. For that a change in human behaviour is required!

Helen Sparkles said...
3 Jan 2007, 22:23:00

I am big on partnership working, as you may have gathered, & there are often conflicts to resolve according to the priorities of different agencies, which can make it quite problematic for front line workers. It seems to be particularly effective when people realise that medical/social models
are often a false dichotomy.

I would agree that behaviours need to change, communication has to improve, & that anyway taking information purely from a file (whether paper or electronic) is inadequate. I am just still out on this one & I don't really like the idea of the government or DNA database holding details.

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