DNA on Demand


Scotland's Strathclyde Police don't blink twice when it comes to slighting privacy for crime detection. In March, Scotland's largest police department announced that officers would take DNA samples from everyone they arrest, no matter how minor the crime. Previously, the police only took DNA from violent criminals, but this new method promises to increase retrieved DNA samples by about 800 a month. The department assures privacy advocates that they will destroy the DNA samples of those found innocent.

Even that bit of leniency, however, may not last long. The law doesn't actually require the police to destroy samples from the wrongly accused, so doing so depends on the whim of the department. And at least one Strathclyde official wants to keep all the samples he can get. Assistant Chief Constable Graeme Person openly advocates a DNA database of every Scottish citizen, whether they're caught committing a crime or not.

Scotland is not the only country flirting with Orwellian crime prevention. Tony Blair intends to have all active criminals in Britain on a national DNA database by 2004. The United States already has a national database with about 600,000 DNA samples, though the individual states have different criteria for taking the samples. The strictest states require samples from all convicted felons. Hong Kong just passed a law allowing police officers to take DNA samples from "serious crime" suspects. Previously, they had to first get permission.