Black people constitute nearly half of the federal DNA database
Black people constitute 40% of the federal DNA database, in part because of the racial disparities from pre-conviction arrest rates, such as stop-and-frisk policies.
Jason Silverstein at Huffington Post explains the implications:
Taking DNA from persons arrested due to such unfair practices introduces a new chilling possibility. Unlike other forensic databases, as Helen Wallace of GeneWatch UK has noted, the DNA profiles of a person’s relatives may be inferred statistically. In a racially biased justice system, this essentially results in the police surveillance of an entire race.
What happens when a criminal database overrepresents one population? Security officials deduce that this population constitutes a dangerous population in need of further surveillance. Sociologists Robin Williams and Paul Johnson call this effect a ‘circuit of surveillance.’ This is why we should not confuse the neutrality of DNA as a hereditary material with the neutrality of those who collect, process, and interpret it.
I’m not sure that the DNA as hereditary material can even be cleanly imagined as “neutral” given what I learned about gene expression here, but I take the point that human engagement with DNA does not displace structural racism, but provides another platform for it to manifest. Another scientific method for “knowing” that black people are criminals.
Part of the resistance work is ending routinized police and prison violence that facilitates this non-consensual bio-data collection (big thanks to everyone who organized and attended the important and impressive march against stop-and-frisk policies in NYC). But it’s also trying to anticipate and plan for what the state intends to do with the bio-data they’ve amassed and for which they are not accountable. They don’t appear to need it for any publicly shared reason, but they aren’t destroying the samples.
…ACLU legislative director Shankar Narayan says, “DNA goes far beyond mere identification. It’s actually a catalog of an individual’s most private biological information.”
To be clear, that biological information is not going into the FBI’s database, known as CODIS. Those computers get only a tiny sampling of genetic information, usually consisting of 13 markers. The most you can do with a computer search is match one sample to another, determine the person’s sex and sometimes point to possible relatives. For anything more detailed, you have to go back to the biological samples ‑‑ the white gunk in the file cabinets. Still, Narayan says, when it comes to government databases, you have to worry about “mission creep” — the possibility that down the road the information could be used for something it wasn’t originally intended for.
“If they are really serious about this being just about the 13 markers, then the biological sample should be destroyed once those 13 markers are uploaded,” he says.
“Mission creep.” Good to know there’s a word for this.