I can't tell if I'm being obtuse or simply becoming a redneck - but at first glance, I'm not completely opposed to increasing Police powers to collect DNA. Currently, Police can require a DNA sample only from those suspected of serious crimes, and only with the consent of a judge. Under the proposed law change, anyone accused of a serious offense could be compelled to give a DNA sample when charges are about to be laid. If the charges are dropped or the accused is acquitted, the DNA sample will be destroyed, but it can be matched with samples collected at crime scenes in the interim.
The proposal has civil liberties activists up in arms, and I can understand why. There seem to be two possible reasons for this: one, DNA sampling is an invasion of privacy; and two, it could be misused by Police. I'm going to leave aside the misuse by Police argument, because I figure that any technology or power can be misused by corrupt or incompetent cops. And, for the time being, I'm going to ignore other practical issues like the cost of DNA sampling. So the question becomes: if we give the Police the benefit of the doubt and assume they'll use DNA samples by the book, could the benefits to public welfare outweigh the infringement of civil liberties?
On Sunday night, I watched 'Until proven innocent', a dramatisation of the story of David Dougherty. This case both is and isn't an advertisement for using DNA as a crime-solving method - although the results of Dougherty's sample cleared him of the rape he was accused of, they were misrepresented in court by the prosecution. The serial rapist responsible for the crime, Nicholas Reekie, committed several other abductions and rapes before being apprehended. Reekie also had many prior convictions for other, less serious crimes. If the Police had had the ability to match Reekie's DNA earlier in his criminal career, it's possible that much of his sexual violence might have been prevented, as well as the ongoing suffering of his victims.
Of course, it's easy for someone like me, who barely passed school cert science, to speculate on the miracles of DNA technology and assume a perfect world of Police officers with impeccable integrity. Still, it's possible that extended Police powers to collect DNA, with the correct checks in balances in place, might be one preventative tool than can be used against sexual assault and other serious crimes.
I look forward to the thoughtful opinions of THM readers...