by Timandra Harkness
Thursday, 15
September 2022
Spotted
10:20

Your DNA can now be used against you

A woman's data was used to arrest her in connection with an unrelated crime
by Timandra Harkness
Fmr San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin. Credit: Getty

You’ve been sexually assaulted. You go to the police and, as part of the evidence you hope will convict your attacker, you give them a DNA sample. A few years later the police contact you again. Your DNA sample has been used to identify a suspected criminal. But that suspect is you.

That’s what happened to an unnamed San Francisco woman, whose DNA was entered into a police database in 2016. In late 2021, it was used to link her to a theft case. Physical evidence she gave as a complainant — hoping to get justice — was being used against her in a completely unrelated case. The District Attorney Chesa Boudin declined to pursue the prosecution, saying that his office wanted victims to feel safe reporting crimes and co-operating with police.

Following that case San Francisco adopted a new law in April this year, limiting how the police can store and use DNA profiles from crime victim reference samples. A similar bill has passed the California State Senate and is awaiting Governor Newsom’s signature. The woman is now suing the authorities, the police chief, and others involved, for an unconstitutional invasion of privacy.

The case reveals the importance of regulating the use of data, especially biometric data, for uses other than the initial purpose of collection. Had the law not been changed future victims might think twice about giving physical evidence — or even a complaint — for fear of later incrimination.

But even though a person may feel confident that they will never break the law, nor be reasonably suspected of breaking the law, can they say the same for their family members? By its very nature DNA connects you to your relatives. And a near match with a sample collected at a crime scene may just incriminate a sibling, cousin or uncle.

Since the UK Government lost a case in the European Court of Human Rights in 2008, British law on police retention of DNA samples from innocent people — including those who were charged and acquitted — is much tighter than US law. But there are still lessons to be drawn from the repurposing of Jane Doe’s DNA sample.

Perhaps a friend sent off their DNA to one of the ancestry companies which offer to analyse someone’s swab and tell them what percentage Viking or Maori they are? They may have missed their small print.

As well as putting DNA to commercial use, such companies willingly co-operate with the police to solve serious crimes. They have been credited with helping to solve the Californian Golden Gate serial killer case by identifying the relatives of potential suspects. Now, Scotland Yard is running a similar pilot programme.

The collection of identifying data from people who have committed no crime crosses a threshold — akin to the wholesale extraction of data from the mobile phones of victims in rape cases.

Any form of biometric data, including DNA, cannot be separated from an individual’s physical existence. And that is exactly why the state’s retention and use of this information should be closely controlled. In a similar vein, the lack of a proper regulatory framework for police use of facial recognition technology is worrying.

At its core, this is a problem about the lack of clear boundaries when it comes to state surveillance into our private lives. Ubiquitous cameras, all-permeating data acquisition, and the acceptance of the “nothing to hide, nothing to fear” mantra, render us transparent to authorities that remain mostly opaque to us.

Our faces in public spaces; our use of public transport; our curiosity about what our genes reveal about our family history — anything may be fair game for the police. And that makes justice an unfair game to us.

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Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
17 days ago

The Idea that there exists such a thing as privacy regarding our biological data is a mirage.
Everyone’s genome, the most fundamental aspect of the data of any individual, is not protectable. It’s not encrypted or inaccessible, in fact it’s totally exposed – you shed skin and hair every day, and each bit of that carries *you* around a million times over. And that means large scale proliferation of your data, of *you* essentially, no matter what laws are passed.

And soon enough, once others have the means to decode and process this data, they will have the ability to do all sorts, predict your longevity, medical history, and behaviour with better accuracy than you yourself and then nudge your behaviour. Unless you ask the algorithms to reflect back to you what you *really are*, which then creates self-altering feedback loops. As can you do to others, of course.

A splicing/dicing/decoding/identity-spoofing/identity-copying arms-race.

And that’s just for starters of course. Fun times for all a-coming over the next couple of decades.

Last edited 17 days ago by Prashant Kotak
Aaron James
Aaron James
17 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

The real reason the Liberals encourage the kinds of migrants who cause crime, elect Soros DA’s to let criminals go and thus exponentially increase crime, defund police and so on it to drive Crime Up.

Then they can say, all we need are Bio-Metric Social Credit Scores which must be carried on one’s phone – to Fight Crime.

Crime is being made ubiquitous so that the police State may also have the complete monitoring of every human, ‘For your protection’.

Digital currency, constant GPS, biometrics – it all is to enslave the humans in a Great Reset. 1984, but a lot worse with Tech and Transhumanism.

Check out the WEF Tech guy, and Satan’s main servant, Yuval Noah Harari – to see what is instore.

Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
17 days ago

‘Physical evidence she gave as a complainant — hoping to get justice — was being used against her in a completely unrelated case.’ Where she was hoping to cheat the victim and avoid justice. 

Garrett R
Garrett R
17 days ago

Never thought I would see UnHerd praise the likes of Chesa Boudin. That AD would send most UnHerd subscribers into a maddening torrent of rage.

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
17 days ago

no suprise as National Socialism takes over the world, and the compliant populus just shrinks in selfish cowardice.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
13 days ago

God, the number of conspiracy theorist weirdos just seems to increase on this supposedly rational site. Along with the deployment of words to signify just anything they like at that moment. Poor old Freddy Sayers; such a clear and rational evidence based thinker, attracting so many who are anything but that.

How is ‘National Socialism’ in any way an appropriate term for a supposed conspiracy to introduce a world government? I thought ‘National’ has nothing to do with it?!

And of course, just as with the ‘woke’ set, a completely disdainful and contemptuous attitude to ordinary people is always on display.

Free Speech Act Now!
Free Speech Act Now!
16 days ago

Everything’s up for grabs: modifying the weather; creating new islands; re-writing human genes; changing reproduction; everything in between. So what’s wrong with that? Why not use technology to make things better? Harvard professor Michael Sandel wrote about the moral issues in genetic modification of children. Underlying them is the realisation that the pursuit of perfection changes our relationship to the world as we find it, and not in a good way. 
https://ukresponse.substack.com/p/against-perfection

David Yetter
David Yetter
14 days ago

Another critique, besides that offered by Sandel: Who decides what constitutes “better” or “perfect”? Whoever it is, if they have enough technology at their beck and call, they become tyrants to whoever has a different notion of better.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
13 days ago

Genetic modification – does that include changing the genes causing severe disease? Why is that fundamentally ethically distinct from ‘playing God’ and giving people medical treatment? But the issue here is not that; it is whether or not the government should be able to store your DNA and use it for purposes you didn’t agree to. There are arguments both ways.

Julian Newman
Julian Newman
17 days ago

A very sobering account. The DA who refused to prosecute this case should be recognised as a hero.

Michael Daniele
Michael Daniele
17 days ago
Reply to  Julian Newman
Gordon Arta
Gordon Arta
17 days ago
Reply to  Julian Newman

And if the DNA had identified the person suspected of murdering one of your loved ones, rather than committing theft, would he still be a ‘hero’?

Aaron James
Aaron James
17 days ago
Reply to  Gordon Arta

Why not – that same DA lets murderers go too. He understands that the ultimate victim is the criminal, who society has so oppressed that they turn to crime.

Andrew Fisher
Andrew Fisher
13 days ago
Reply to  Aaron James

No, that’s not a good enough answer, sarcastic though it is. Murderers ARE actually prosecuted in the US and UK. DNA evidence is widely used.

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
16 days ago

So, was this a mismatch, a close match, perhaps of a relative, or a certain match that placed said individual at the crime scene? Maybe because the case was not pursued, we can never know. Anyway, the link leads to the NYT so make of that what you will.

My reading of this is that this person was indeed connected to the theft case.

Last edited 16 days ago by Al M
E. L. Herndon
E. L. Herndon
15 days ago

Didn’t see that coming. (Warning: sarcasm detected)

Albireo Double
Albireo Double
15 days ago

“Attorney Chesa Boudin declined to pursue the prosecution, saying that his office wanted victims to feel safe reporting crimes and co-operating with police. … ”

A little late for that, I’d say. The damage is done!

Last edited 15 days ago by Albireo Double