A professor of cell and molecular biology and director of the Ph.D program from the University of Wisconsin recently told me, “Science is communicated through a three legged stool. The problem being that scientists have not communicated well, only communicating to hospitals and other scientists, however it is left for the hospitals to communicate to the general population. Well, they do not seem to do a good job and so it is left to the media. And, we know what happens then.” The revelation of genetics like many other sciences was introduced into our lives as something harmless and even offered a curious way to connect to our long ago past. Thereafter, genetics further creeped into our lives via medical care and provided a means obligate to healthcare. Populations upon populations bought into the idea that their lives could be saved via genetic testing and the future of illness could be curtailed at a minuscule cost of a small notebook or an hour massage. However, this time, the three legged stool was not suffice to dispel the concerns of the new frontier and keeping the curtains drawn was not adequate to keep the record player revolving.
Twist it and turn it up
And so, due to the vulnerability of privacy came the flood of fears of discrimination and economic loss for which the Genetic Information Act of 2008 was enacted and successfully appeased the masses. The principle concern abated, and the acceleration of technological advancement in genetics appeared tamed and regulated, however to the contrary, it caught fire and spread wildly transversing transatlantically. The three legged stool back on the ground, scientists communicating to other scientists and hospitals and hospitals communicating with the people, furthermore the media spins it and then saturates social media with it, resulting in people being misinformed. With the unification of tactics by biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies projecting there spins via commercials for easy consummation, how, it is not true? How is free genetic information hand outs not good for us?
Well, I am not going to elaborate on the how, but I will tell you that science and biotechnology are tightly woven. Much like computers and then mobiles, with each revelation of technologies effecting our lives with greater impact, it becomes more difficult to imagine life sans it. The revolution of genetics is similar in that like other successful technologies sweeps the world by waves of a tsunami. Yet, it is different than its predecessors, such as gene therapy and stem cell research in the very way that DNA material by function is a vital link and preludes to other networks and other technologies, notably identity. This instrumental key coupled with existing security systems, fingerprinting, face recognition, social media, data mining, familial searching and iris scans has made it this the ultimate tool for global surveillance, effectively making it both appealing and ripe for countries with a broad range of budget. Thus, the implementation surveillance systems such as CODIS, Rapid DNA Analysis, and ALPR (automatic license plate recognition) has been soaring.
Near and far
The ease of processing traces of human elements for forensic DNA databases is without surprise. However, what is alarming is the practice of forensic DNA databases by law enforcement expanding well beyond our borders. Sixty different countries, small and large are forging ahead with collecting DNA from people of investigation and innocent people, aiming at population surveillance. “Over the last eleven years, Life Technologies has advised over 50 foreign governments and states on forensic DNA legislation, policy and law and regularly makes promotional presentations to foreign countries. Additionally, the level at which collaboration between countries is also a cause of great concern. For example, Prum DNA treaty was signed within the Europe Union, and Attorney Mitchell Morrissey of Denver is a renown expert on forensic DNA who regularly consults foreign governments. Many examples of abuse of power resulting in: dragnets, DNA mining, wrongful arrests, surreptitious testing without a warrant. violation of the fourth amendment, errors in DNA processing, degradation of DNA material, contamination, tampering, and non scientists misusing sensitive equipment are more prevalent than disclosed.
So, the question is, why are we in such dangers that the law enforcement are implementing the practice of DNA database with such urgency that even countries with marginal populations are making grand efforts to carry similar practices and share DNA databases with other countries when seemly prior they could only agree that they disagree? But more significantly, should it be done in a way that reserves our privacy rights, our amendment? Acknowledging the series of events and its impact on the society is infallible; unequivocally, I believe the consequences of worldwide surveillance, using the current methods is detrimental to morality, trust and, a rape and a destruction of democracy, hence effectively changing the society in ways we can yet imagine. The altitude of corruption is finding new heights to occupy.
DNA Policy Initiative. Forensics: The Issues. Retrieved from http://dnapolicyinitiative.org/about-us/