The Guardian April 5, 2000


Compulsory DNA testing

The NSW Labor Government is set to put legislation before State 
Parliament making DNA testing by a mouth swab compulsory on arrest and for 
all prisoners.

"The legislation calls for a strong opposition", said the Justice Action 
organisation.

"We are calling on organisations to actively defend basic human rights for 
those arrested and imprisoned."

"Compulsory DNA mouth swabbing is an invasive, dehumanising process", said 
Justice Action.

There are considerable doubts over the reliability and integrity of the 
testing and the use it could be put to.

In New Zealand, an error in the DNA testing resulted in the prime suspect 
of rape not being committed.

Later, after several more rapes, new tests showed a match and he was 
charged.

In another case, the victim of assault was nearly charged with murder 
because poor procedures gave a false match when a sample of his DNA turned 
up in another test.

Fortunately, the innocent assault victim had a watertight alibi in another 
part of the country at the time of the murder.

In the USA, the FBI's laboratory  the main public laboratory where DNA 
testing is carried out  is under investigation by the Justice Department 
for faking results.

A Californian laboratory is also under similar investigation and other 
laboratories are being investigated for not using stringent enough testing 
procedures.

Unlike fingerprinting, which makes a one on one match, the technology for 
DNA testing only tests a genome sequence. There is a 1 in 200,000 risk of 
matching by chance.

Justice Action told The Guardian that if each of NSW's prisoners 
were tested  there are almost 8,000  against the 15,000 DNA crime scene 
samples on record, then with a probability of 1 in 200,000 of a match, 
under the law of averages there might be 500 mismatches. A lottery you 
wouldn't want to win.

In the USA and Britain it is recommended that laboratories have blind tests 
 ones where matches are known prior testing  to see what the 
laboratories come up with.

In one instance in the USA, where known samples were sent for testing, 
there was a false rate of one percent in the results.

In Victoria, legislation is already in place for the compulsory testing of 
all prisoners, regardless of whether they are under suspicion of crime.

Justice Action is proposing that if the DNA of prisoners (and others whose 
DNA is on police records) is to be tested in relation to unresolved crimes, 
then prisoners should be allowed to apply the tests to previous convictions 
to see if they have been wrongly convicted.

Justice Action is also asking for a fund for compensation to be established 
for those who have been wrongfully convicted.

DNA testing could play an important role. The question is how it is used, 
and how the privacy and rights of individuals are treated.

Shades of police state

There is also the awesome prospect of DNA records being kept on ALL 
Australians and how easily these could be used to monitor and frame people 
 an ID system more frightening than the aborted Australia Card.

This is not as far-fetched as it might sound.

The NSW Police have applied for all of the results of DNA testing on babies 
to put on their own data base. Hospitals carry out testing on around 98 per 
cent of babies.

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