Sunday, 16 March 2008

Innocent until proven naughty

Primary school children should be eligible for the DNA database if they exhibit behaviour indicating they may become criminals in later life, according to Britain's most senior police forensics expert.

Gary Pugh, director of forensic sciences at Scotland Yard and the new DNA spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said a debate was needed on how far Britain should go in identifying potential offenders, given that some experts believe it is possible to identify future offending traits in children as young as five.

'If we have a primary means of identifying people before they offend, then in the long-term the benefits of targeting younger people are extremely large,' said Pugh. 'You could argue the younger the better. Criminologists say some people will grow out of crime; others won't. We have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society.'

Pugh admitted that the deeply controversial suggestion raised issues of parental consent, potential stigmatisation and the role of teachers in identifying future offenders, but said society needed an open, mature discussion on how best to tackle crime before it took place. There are currently 4.5 million genetic samples on the UK database - the largest in Europe - but police believe more are required to reduce crime further. 'The number of unsolved crimes says we are not sampling enough of the right people,' Pugh told The Observer. However, he said the notion of universal sampling - everyone being forced to give their genetic samples to the database - is currently prohibited by cost and logistics.

Civil liberty groups condemned his comments last night by likening them to an excerpt from a 'science fiction novel'. One teaching union warned that it was a step towards a 'police state'.
And, on this issue, I agree 100%. It is bad enough that adults are having their details permanently stored on this database, simply because they were once arrested, regardless of whether they actually committed the crime, or whether they were ever convicted of anything. The notion that children below the age of criminal responsibility should have their DNA taken and kept forever for crimes that they might commit in the future is downright sinister. As, indeed, is the idea that adults who have never had so much as a parking ticket could nonetheless have their DNA kept on a database, simply because when they were seven or eight years old someone decided that they might one day become a criminal.

I say "someone" because it's not made clear who will actually be taking the decision. Will all children who are sent to the headmistress now be swabbed as a matter of course? I assume not, but it would be interesting to know who, if Gary Pugh ever gets his way, will decide that a child is a potential "threat to society", and on what basis they will make this decision.

Pugh says that "we have to find who are possibly going to be the biggest threat to society". Well, I would have thought that the answer to this question could be determined with greater accuracy by paying attention to those teenagers who are actually convicted of committing crimes. Surely proven fact is a better indicator of a tendency to commit crime, than even the most well-informed speculation? I would also point out that Pugh is not simply interesting in "finding out" which children are more likely to commit crime as adults, but he is also interested in forcibly taking their DNA, with or without the consent of their parents, and keeping it on a database for the remainder of their lives. There's rather a big difference between that, and simply "finding out".

I do not have any great objection to convicted criminals being obliged to provide DNA samples, but it is a severe violation of our civil liberties to compel the rest of us to do so. This does not cease to be the case, simply because doing so assists the police in solving crimes. It is quite clear that at least some senior police officers want, ultimately, to see the establishment of a compulsory nationwide DNA database, even if they regard the costs or logistical problems as being too great to allow such a programme to be implemented at present. The gradual growth of the database, the gradual increase in the types of people who can be forced to give up their DNA, and the consequent gradual acceptance of compulsory DNA testing, can only serve to hasten the day when all of us are ordered to submit to such testing by the state. As I have noted several times before, that is a day that I for one hope never to see.

As a final thought, it occurs to me that many people homeschool their children - as many as 100,000 British children are educated in this manner. Clearly, the agents of the state have far fewer opportunities to observe these children on a day-to-day basis, and are consequently far less able to identify potential evildoers among this group - the next Shipman could be out there, for Heaven's sake! I wonder what kind of (no doubt authoritarian) measures Pugh and his ilk would like to see put in place, to root out any potential criminals from among the ranks of the home educated?


Anonymous said...

Your position on this is very strange, FR.

"I do not have any great objection to convicted criminals being obliged to provide DNA samples..."

No GREAT objection? The use of the adjective suggests a qualification. Do you have a small objection? What on earth could this be? DNA analysis is an invaluable tool in the war against crime. It enables us to identify and convict criminals. What's not to like?

I would go further and support fully the proposal to identify (and take DNA from) the likely criminals of the future. Propensity to criminal activity almost certainly has a genetic component. Crime runs in families and, as we know, leftist excuse-making about how it's all down to environmental factors is simply a smokescreen to deny the essential inequality of man.

If a badly-behaved child develops into a well-adjusted adult who obeys the law then he will have nothing to fear from his DNA being on file but if he evolves into a criminal then the police will catch him much more quickly.

The Left is terrified of the whole issue of genetics, and the obvious heritability of characteristics such as intelligence, because it proves that the Conservative view of human nature is based on the truth.

I don't want to read a blog by Fulham Progressive!

Anonymous said...

It will never be allowed to happen. Because if family criminality is taken into account, certain racial groups would start whining about "profiling". So they are wasting their time even speculating about it.


Fulham Reactionary said...

Basically, my principal objections to this (and similar measures) are:

1. I find the idea of law abiding citizens being forced to submit to DNA testing by agents of the state repellent. I don't, however, have a problem with convicted criminals being forced to submit to such testing (and yes, I probably should have been more decisive on this).

2. I don't trust the government and its agencies to administer such a system competently. Consider how much personal data they've lost recently, for example.

3. Regarding this particular example: it just seems unnecessary. Aside from a handful of extreme cases (which this would not prevent, anyway), children do not go straight from being badly behaved in class to committing really serious crime. Rather, if they do make that transition, they make it via low-level petty crime, and gradually build up to the more serious stuff. At some point quite early on in this process they're going to get caught, whereupon the police will get their DNA anyway. This seems a rather better approach to identifying, and getting the DNA of, young criminals than the scattergun approach proposed by Gary Pugh.

Also, while it may be possible, as you say, to predict a potential for criminality from DNA, the proposal that Gary Pugh has made would presumably rely on predictions of future criminality made by educational psychologists, or possibly teachers, on the basis of unspecified criteria. I'm not really sure I trust such people, who tend to be considerably to the left themselves, to pick out the criminals of the future.