Please begrudge me the quote from V for Vendetta, but I’m really starting to worry about what’s going on in the United Kingdom.
On Wednesday I wrote about the UK’s “Interception Modernisation Programme.” New rules under the program require wireless companies and internet service providers to archive phone records, web history, and emails for a period of 12 months, and to make that data available to 600+ government agencies without a warrant.
Naturally, the erosion of privacy was absolutely shocking, and I was sickened… at least until the next day when I read an even more disturbing story, also out of the UK.
Now the British government has announced that it is going to maintain DNA profiles of innocent people for ‘only’ six years.
You see, this is actually a shift in policy. Since being established in 1995, the government has built up it’s “National DNA Database” to over 4.7 million people, and it grows by 30,000 per month. This is about 7.6% of the population. Oh yeah, and it costs British taxpayers about $100 million/year.
How did the database get so large? The UK’s Criminal Justice Act of 2003 authorized DNA samples to be taken by police on everyone they arrest or detain… you don’t even have to be charged with a crime.
Without any consent whatsoever, police can take oral swabs, footwear impressions, fingerprints, and in some cases blood, urine, semen, and dental impressions.
Until now, the British government has maintained DNA profiles indefinitely, even for people who had been found innocent and released from police custody without ever having been charged.
In a historic case, the European Court of Human Rights recently ruled that Britain’s policy of keeping the DNA data indefinitely was a clear violation of human rights… so on Wednesday, the British government announced that it would discard innocents’ DNA profiles after 6 years.
The great irony with both the DNA compromise and the Interception Modernisation Programme is that they were announced right around the same time that European leaders were collectively celebrating the end of communist tyranny and the secret police.
Naturally, the British government doesn’t consider keeping DNA records to be remotely totalitarian; rather, authorities maintain that the information helps the war on crime and terrorism.
According to the government’s statistics, 6,504 rape and murder crime scenes over the last 8-years have had DNA evidence matching a profile in the national database. Apparently this is supposed to make people rest easy.
Personally, I’m left wondering about the other 4.7 million DNA profiles that weren’t involved in these crimes. I’m also left wondering how many of the 6,504 profile matches just coincidentally happened to be near the crime scene but were not involved with any criminal act…?
The scariest part is the following line I copied from the government’s website–
“Maintaining and developing the [DNA] database is one of the government’s top priorities.”
I almost passed out when I read it.
Yes, I recognize that there are people out there who believe that, “hey, if you have nothing to hide, why are you so concerned about the government monitoring your emails or maintaining your DNA records?”
This ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ argument is flawed for two key reasons.
First, it means that the individual agrees to a ‘guilty until proven innocent’ paradigm; in this case, you may have nothing to hide, but you are agreeing that the government will assume your guilt until it goes through your private affairs to prove innocence.
Second, it is the mother of slippery slopes. In a span of three days, the British government has announced its electronic surveillance program, and now an insipid response to the European Court of Human Rights for its DNA database standards.
What will it be tomorrow for the Brits– a national ID card? Oh wait, that’s in the works already.
Look, I’m an incredibly positive and optimistic person, but these clowns are really going down a dangerous path… rather than spend an entire letter decrying the British government’s complete disregard for civil liberties, however, I will leave you with a few suggestions.
If you’re looking for privacy, stick to smaller countries that would never cough up so much money for complicated DNA databases. Panama comes to mind. Croatia. The Philippines. Chile. Moldova. Tanzania. Ecuador. Mongolia. Uruguay.
I will be discussing these in more detail, and next week try to write something up about PGP and email security as I promised on Wednesday.
Of course, I’d like to hear from you about your own experiences.