Computer cracker Adrian Lamo is in trouble again.
Not for cracking any new computer systems, but because he won’t give the federal government a blood sample so it can isolate his DNA and add it to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS).
Lamo apparently isn’t opposed to giving the government his DNA; he did provide the FBI with nail clippings and hair samples. He simply states that giving the blood is against his non-specified religious beliefs.
Those in charge, however, will only accept blood or saliva for the sample (no explanation has been given as to why Lamo has been told he can give only a blood sample).
While it is certainly easiest to isolate DNA from blood, the technology exists to utilize DNA from other parts of the body, including the hair and nail samples Lamo provided.
Now, while Lamo isn’t concerned about giving the government his DNA, I would be, and am.
I’ve known about this program for a while, but here is some background for those of you who are not familiar with it, courtesy of the FBI’s CODIS Web site:
“CODIS blends forensic science and computer technology into an effective tool for solving violent crimes.
It began as a pilot project in 1990, and enables federal, state and local crime labs to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically, thereby linking crimes to each other and to convicted offenders.
CODIS generates investigative leads in crimes where biological evidence is recovered from the crime scene using two indexes: the forensic and offender indexes.
Matches made among profiles in the Forensic Index can link crime scenes together; possibly identifying serial offenders.
Based on a match, police in multiple jurisdictions can coordinate their respective investigations, and share the leads they developed independently.”
What I hadn’t realized is that the 2004 Justice for All Act expanded the CODIS purview to include samples from all newly convicted federal criminals, including white-collar criminals — people who commit crimes that very rarely leave any traces of DNA at the scene to test.
What, then, is the point of collecting the DNA of these white-collar criminals?
It makes me uncomfortable, because the government has ruled in the past that pieces of your body — your blood, your cancers, your spleens (Hi John Moore!), anything that can be taken from your body — are no longer yours once they are removed.
It’s considered a consensual donation in medical circumstances, but in forensics, it’s either court-mandated or cast-off/thrown away and thus no longer your property (such as leaving hair at the scene of the crime).
At least that’s how I understand the forensic side of it — I’m sure someone will write in to correct me if I’m wrong.
What this means is that your DNA can be taken, stored, sequenced, analyzed and released to the public without your knowledge, without your benefit. And potentially to your detriment. There are growing fears that DNA samples showing proclivities for diseases will result, in insurance companies denying coverage.
What happens if the government sequences the DNA of one of these incarcerated criminals and finds something of value, something that requires more samples?
Criminals have very few rights over their bodies — will the government then be able to just take what it wants?
Granted, these concerns existed when CODIS was implemented to begin with, but many deemed the benefit of DNA samples and ability to match future DNA to known criminals who are at high risk of recidivism (such as sexual predators) worth the potential abuses of having that DNA.
But now we’re talking about people with low rate of recidivism who aren’t dangerous in the sense set up for CODIS, who’re having their DNA added to this system, for who only knows what reasons.
The ethics of this, and the potential for abuse of the policy, is worth thinking — even perhaps worrying about.