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 they can isolate his DNA and add it to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). He did bring nail clippings and hair samples, but those in charge will only accept blood for the sample.
Now, I’ve known about CODIS for a while. The point is to be able to store the DNA of sexual predators and violent criminals. 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 rarely leave any traces of DNA for testing.
What, then, is the point to collecting the DNA of these white collar criminals? It makes me uncomfortable, because the government has ruled in the past that elements of your body – your blood, your cancers, your spleens, anything that can be taken from your body – are no longer yours once they are removed from your body. Including DNA.
This means that your DNA can be taken, stored, sequences, analyzed, and released to the public, without your say, 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, for example.
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 little rights over their bodies – will they then be able to just take what they (the government they, that is) want?
Granted, these concerns existed when CODIS was implemented to begin with, but many people deemed the benefit of DNA samples and ability to match future DNA to known criminals who’re at high risk to returning to criminal behaviour, worth the potential abuses of having that DNA.
But now we’re talking about people with low rate of recidivism, who aren’t dangerous, per se, 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, and even perhaps worrying, about.