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.

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  • 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…

  • if i am not wrong dna evi­dence is option­al a per­son has a right to refuse.

  • 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.

  • 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!

  • 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.

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

  • @ 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:

    http://www.bmj.com/cgi/eletters/330/7492/617-a#101289

  • Mahen­dra: This arti­cle in the Econ­o­mist will inter­est you:

    http://www.economist.com/world/na/displaystory.cfm?story_id=11057079

  • 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.

  • @ AD: Didn’t know cows were fin­ger-print­ed 😉

  • 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.

  • 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…

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Mahen­dra: We are wait­ing for new writ­ing 🙂

  • Some­how i missed the point. Prob­a­bly lost in trans­la­tion 🙂 Any­way … nice blog to vis­it.

    cheers, Zany.

  • Hi! Saw your blog and liked it. Its infor­ma­tive. I also have a gen­er­al blog http://jibonerakibuki.blogspot.com . Take a look at that some­times. I also have a pro­pos­al for you. Can we write say 2 posts a month on each oth­ers blog? Say I will write about two post of yours and you do the same for me. We can also share oth­er busi­ness mod­ules and Ideas. Let me know if my pro­pos­al inter­ests you.
    Thank­ing you in antic­i­pa­tion.
    Regards,
    Babu Banik.

  • @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?

  • won’t get this thing on my mind..
    DNA or no DNA.
    i won’t under­stand the sci­ence behind it

  • Jira

    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 🙂 !!

  • Bendtherulz

    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)

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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:
    http://www.scotusblog.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/2009/03/doj-detain-authority-3–13-09.pdf
    , 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.