Biometrics – an invasion of privacy?

Biometrics is the science of identifying a person by their unique biological characteristics – their DNA for example, or their fingerprints. There’s currently an enormous range of technologies designed for this (and more currently in development), but they remain comparatively underused. Why is this?

The question that is invariably asked is that of safety. Who’s collecting my data, and why? Could it be used against me? Is it safe? Newspapers publish sensationalist anti-biometric articles, but the public are surprisingly unconcerned. A 2006 survey of the British public showed that by and large we trust the technology. 83% of respondents claimed they felt “comfortable” or “extremely comfortable” with fingerprint recognition technology.

Counter-intuitively, the aspect of biometrics that people seem most resistant to is its use in crime prevention. DNA evidence has been used in the UK since the late 80’s, but it still draws criticism (despite it’s incredible reliability). The National DNA Database (established over 15 years ago) has faced attacks from all political parties, as well as organisations such as GeneWatch UK and the Human Genetics Commission.

It all seems to stem from a belief in a “right to privacy”. In 2011, the headlines were dominated by the phone hacking scandal – a story revolving entirely around privacy issues. 2011 was also the year Clare’s Law was proposed, a law that would allow the police to inform a person if their partner has a history of violent offences. This faced significant opposition, due to the fact that it would violate that sacred “right to privacy”.

I don’t believe that anyone has a right to privacy. It doesn’t make sense. Why do you need it? A violation of someone’s privacy doesn’t *necessarily* harm them in any way. I think it’d be better to say that people have a right not to be humiliated. I mean, who really cares if the government has your DNA? What kind of juicy information are you expecting them to extract from it?

My personal opinion is that everyone should be on the National DNA Database from birth. Controversial I know, but think of the benefits! Any criminal that leaves DNA could be caught before they reoffended. There would be vast rewards for medical science as well – genetic risk factors for diseases could be identified, and people could apply the appropriate steps to reduce their risks.

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  1. Ultimately I don’t care whether the government has access to my DNA, fingerprints etc. because I don’t use it for anything.

    If I were to start paying via fingerprints then I might be concerned.

    • Scott Pearce
    • January 17th, 2012

    So say the Gov has a database of EVERYONE on its files, while DNA is super reliable when indentifying people, whats to stop a criminal, or maybe someone with a grudge, committing a crime and leaving someone elses DNA there? All it would need to be would be like, pick up your ciggarette butt from an ashtray and dump it somewhere and BAM, your placed at the scene of the crime! What if you were out smoking one day near Bristol and threw your finished ciggie on the ground, and later that night Vincent Tabak dumps a body in the same spot?

  2. One issue I have is what if an error is made, by a human or a computer. All it would take is the wrong name to be put to a DNA profile and an innocent person who wouldn’t have been on the current National DNA Database could get charged with a crime they didn’t commit.

    • Mary
    • January 17th, 2012

    Clare’s Law is a good thing and people should have the right to know; however, do you believe that people can change? Can criminals be rehabilitated? Who has the right to mete out justice? Look at the Bulger killers and what happened to one of them when released. Jo/e Public doesn’t forget, or forgive, acts like this lightly – or at all. On the other hand – if everyone’s DNA was known, would that reduce crime overall because of the statistical likelihood of being caught? Or just increase the incidence of a ‘criminal class’ whose babies were never sampled? No idea.

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