Monday, June 21, 2010

Fishing for DNA

Over the past decade, DNA profiling has emerged as a potent crimefighting tool. If DNA left at a crime scene can be matched with that of a suspect, then it is strong evidence that they were present, and a powerful argument for conviction. As a result, police forces around the world have been building databases of DNA taken from those convicted of crimes, with an eye to either solving other crimes committed by these people, or gaining an easy conviction should they ever reoffend.

But there's a problem: not everyone is in these databases. And so police have been trying to expand them. In New Zealand, they've recently gained the power to forcibly take DNA from anyone arrested, even if they are subsequently acquitted. But even that isn't enough - and so our police have gone fishing. A few years ago they were harassing teenagers in routine traffic stops, demanding DNA swabs in exchange for letting them go. Now they're intimidating Maori kids, using fear and lies to extract samples:

"I've heard of a few cases where young Maori have been conned by police into giving DNA samples even when they haven't committed a crime. One young Maori told me the police wanted the sample because one of their relatives might be known to police.

"Another told me the police wanted the sample in case the rangatahi got killed and the police needed to identify them."

Harawira argues that approaching children to give DNA without their parent's consent is outside police guidelines. its worse than that - it's flat-out illegal. The law is very clear on this: section 30 of the Criminal Investigations (Bodily Samples) Act 1995 says that
Nothing in section 30 of this Act [which specifies the administrative procedure for gaining samples by consent - I/S] applies in respect of a person who is under the age of 17 years, and no such person shall be capable of consenting to the taking of a bodily sample in response to a request made under that section.
If Harawira is correct, the police have been systematically breaking the law. And every officer who has taken such a sample is guilty of contravention of statute and liable for imprisonment for one year.