Do you think that it is morally wrong to store the DNA of innocent people on a central database?
Living in Scotland, the law says that people who have been charged of a 'violent or sexual offence' can have their DNA stored in a database for 3 years (with the possibility of extending that to 5). This isn't the DNA of people who have been convicted, but the DNA of people who have been charged and subsequently released (essentially innocent in respect to the law). In discussions with friends, I often come across the argument as follows: 'if you haven't done anything wrong, then you don't have anything to worry about'; at which point I often reply: 'if I haven't done anything wrong, then you have no need to hold my DNA'.
Do you feel that a government has a duty to hold the DNA of 'potential' criminals like this in order to benefit society at large?
I'm with you. There is a security interest in having as complete as possible a database of DNA, but there is a contrary interest in privacy that I believe trumps the security interest. One reason for this is that, alas, your friends are simply wrong to think that simply because one is innocent one has nothing to fear from the government. Innocent people are convicted perhaps more often than your friends think. I recommend a book called Actual Innocence , which along with the Innocence Project explores how false convictions occur. One way they seem to occur is through the misuse of biological evidence. Or Google "Fred Zain" and "Ralph Erdmann" to learn more about the laboratory misconduct. The case of the Guilford Four in Britain is instructive, too. Sadly, the most prudent course and the course that best protects innocent people is not to allow the state access to the DNA of people charged but found to be innocent. This will, of course, in some cases diminish people's security; but the...