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Thursday, 4 December 2008

Guthrie Cards as an Inchoate Genetic Database

I just stumbled across this from Kiwipolemicist; it seems that if you were born in New Zealand from 1969 onwards, chances are that the New Zealand government is holding a sample of your blood. Some 2.1 million blood samples taken from newborns via the 'heel-prick' test are still on file today stored on "Guthrie cards."

This is basically an inchoate genetic database; if the government wanted to, it could easily tap into this info and have the means get a substantial head-start on creating a DNA profile of all its citizens. The Hon Peter Dunne is quoted in a report by the Privacy Commissioner, at para 7.4, arguing that the database has the potential to be “a powerful weapon in the fight against crime.

But hang on a minute, this powerful weapon would be obtained without probable cause; in this instance, evidence that a reasonable person would deem sufficient to conclude that a particular person will or has committed a crime. There are strong arguments to justify the New Zealand DNA Data-Bank's holding of two crime based DNA databases, the National DNA Database (containing DNA profiles from those convicted of serious offences) and the Crime Sample Database (containing DNA profiles from crime scene samples). However, to talk of creating one from every citizen is to consider a serious breach of civil liberties; such liberties as the right for innocent people to be protected from unreasonable searches and seizures on the part of the State.

One might argue that if the State has not made this move having had this database since 1969 it is not likely to. In addition to being, not the point, I think this is naive and KP agrees with me:
[T]rusting the state to properly use personal information is like putting a dog and a steak in a closed room and expecting to find the steak untouched the next day.
A Memorandum of Understanding regulating requests from the Police for access to the Guthrie Cards is already in existence and has been put to use, more than once. Further, we are all familiar with NZ governments, from both camps, being too loose with civil liberties when they have an end in mind.

As Franklin said, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so while I still can, I am going to apply to have mine and my children's DNA returned.


  1. Hi Madeline,
    I'll update the link to your site asap, Blogrolling is down at the moment...


  2. Commenting was switched off on your copywrite page so excuse me for writing here.

    Incidentally, it is copyright, i.e. the "right" to reproduce writing, make copies.

    It seems that you believe in intellectual property, I am not so convinced, but would still like to hear several views on this. If you feel so inclined it would be an interesting post from you guys.

    This is Poythress' take.

  3. I am not sure what I think on intellectual property but that is a different question as to whether its right to copy someone elses without acknowledgement. Intellectual property could just be a symptom of our culture trying to phrase all duties in terms of rights. Madeleine leans towards it more than I do but her background is more law/jurisprudence-ish than mine.

    Your article looks interesting, we have added it to the potential blog list.

    The reason we have the copyright policy page is because we have been, and continue to be, published and our blog posts often contain material published elsewhere so there are stringent legal issues we need to be careful about regardless of how we might feel about IP.

    Further, we want to protect ourselves from accusations of plagiarism.

    Thanks for pointing out my spelling error on the copyright link - as I said to Carl who also pointed it out, I have a tendancy to reverse things in my mind when it comes to written words, and a few tangible things too, meaning I will spell something in a way I know is wrong, because I know the english rules, but instinctively I have reversed them and used a common misspelling (or a peculiar spelling based on how my mind reads written words). Madeleine thinks I have a form of dyslexia but I have never been diagnosed.

  4. Thanks Andy, given the number of sites you run that link to us that would be brilliant as it really helps with our stats - particularly our technorati authority which is used by both the NZ blog statisticians.

    Currently we are measured on only two and a bit months worth of authority whereas everyone else is measured on six months worth. Our slightly less than 4 months worth is of course all related to our old URL. If we can get everyone who links to the old URL to update the links then our technorati score becomes more accurate faster than having to wait out the full six months.

  5. KP, whilst I do agree that keeping DNA, fingerprints, photos, etc.. from those arrested who turn out to be innocent is a questionable practice in terms of civil liberties, at least in such instances there is probable cause. As such I wouldn't call it worse.

    However, I do agree it is concerning. My concern is about all the profile information, not just the DNA evidence, being kept by the state when the suspect is not proved guilty.

  6. Madeleine, what is the probable cause for permanently keeping DNA and other evidence from people who have been arrested and found innocent?

    As I said in the post below, the UK government justifies this by saying that these people might commit a crime one day. That reasoning could be used to justify almost any violation of civil liberties.


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