The Guardian May 10, 2000


No DNA without discussion

by Rohan Gowland

The NSW Carr Government is intending to introduce DNA database collection 
legislation during the current session of parliament, warned Justice 
Action, a social justice lobby group.

A small but important rally organised by Justice Action was held outside 
Parliament House in Sydney last Thursday to protest against the legislation 
which would enable police to forcibly take a sample of people's DNA.

In the present climate where police powers generally are being 
strengthened, compulsory DNA collection is something to be concerned about. 
If the State owns your DNA, it could be said they own you, too. Privacy is 
a main issue, along with capitalist exploitation of DNA information.

The formation of DNA databases on computer is a frightening prospect 
because they can be easily accessed and passed on to other government 
agencies or the private sector.

In the private sector, health insurance companies have been extremely 
interested in getting people's genetic records. For instance, with your 
DNA, it is possible to tell if you have any genetic weaknesses, such as a 
likelihood of developing cancer, heart problems or other illnesses later in 
life.

This information, if made available to health insurance companies, could 
enable them to weed out the people who are more likely to make an insurance 
claim.

Employers might also be interested in your DNA for job selection/rejection 
purposes.

While the police can put DNA information to good uses, such as forensic 
evidence to solve crimes, its collection on data banks is considered by 
many as an invasive act that shows disregard for the rights of individuals. 
Apart from possible misuse by police, the database could also find its way 
into the hands of others.

Justice Action said that several US states allow DNA data collected by the 
police to be onsold to universities and corporate researchers. The 
government of Iceland has already sold the DNA database of its entire 
population to a drug research company without the people's permission.

In New Zealand, the DNA of crime victims is taken and used by police to try 
to link them to unsolved murders. In NSW, DNA extracted from Red Cross 
blood donors has been used in criminal trials without their consent or 
knowledge, said Justice Action.

"Laws preventing the abuse of citizens' DNA data are urgently needed in 
this state", said Brett Collins from Justice Action.

"DNA technology will see unimaginable changes to out society over the next 
few decades", said Michael Strutt, also from Justice Action.

"The laws governing it are far too important to be developed in a Cabinet 
backroom and pushed through a late night sitting of parliament", he said.

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