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BLANKET DNA TESTING

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KeithP
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What is the Objectivist viewpoint about requiring suspects to submit to mandatory DNA tests? Even when there is nothing but circumstantial evidence in the case?

What about requiring everyone to register their DNA. Do the innocent have any reason to refuse?

Does the governments role to protect the public allow an invasion of privacy?

Keith

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I bet if Stephen was here he would have pounced on this one. The silence is deafening. Its like everyone is afraid to get the answer wrong. 

Keith

Get a warrant... The same procedure should apply as if the police wanted to search someone's house or effects.

But the whole nature of detaining suspects before trial, and searching anyone's property before trail, doesn't strictly respect a potentially innocent person's rights. It's an exception which is made in the interest of the state, and in the interest of justice, to help law enforcement identify and prosecute criminals. As such it's written into the US Constitution.

Craig

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What is the Objectivist viewpoint about requiring suspects to submit to mandatory DNA tests? Even when there is nothing but circumstantial evidence in the case?

"Get a warrant" is correct but let me offer a little more.

The specifics of how much evidence must exist to justify taking a suspect's DNA is a matter of criminal law. Objectivism, qua philosophy, can only suggest the broad principles by which such specifics could be determined. For instance, philosophy can tell you that in evaluating the evidence there must be an objective standard applied by an independent entity -- such as a probable cause finding by a judge -- but it cannot tell you how to define that standard, i.e. how much evidence constitutes probable cause. That would be the task of criminal law, not philosophy.

What about requiring everyone to register their DNA. Do the innocent have any reason to refuse?
Yes, they have the best reason in the world to refuse. Forcing me to surrender DNA, in the absence of any evidence of a crime, constitutes an initiation of force against me -- the very thing the government is supposed to protect me from.

I would have no objection to a voluntary DNA database, just as I would not oppose a voluntary gun registration program.

Does the governments role to protect the public allow an invasion of privacy?

Keith

The government's role is to protect individual rights via retaliatory force. Until and unless it has evidence of a crime (per the standard I mentioned under number 1), taking anything from me without my consent, including information, constitutes the initiation of force.
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What is the Objectivist viewpoint about requiring suspects to submit to mandatory DNA tests? Even when there is nothing but circumstantial evidence in the case?

How would you expect the police to get more than circumstantial evidence if they didn't use this DNA test? (assuming they have exhausted other leads)

Part of the reason they collect evidence and start to build up cases against suspects is so that, given a probable set of evidence suggesting someone may have committed a crime, they can get a warrant in order to collect more evidence that the suspect may refuse to provide.

A DNA test isn't putting the suspect in prison or giving him a lethal injection, though it is an initiation of force. Small exertions of force are necessary in carrying out justice--when there is some reason to believe a person may have commited a crime and that force is necessary in carrying out justice. Of course, it should be objectively controlled and only be used when there is reasonable suspicion.

What about requiring everyone to register their DNA. Do the innocent have any reason to refuse?

I don't think (to the extent of my knowledge of Ayn Rand's applications) Objectivism itself says more on this issue than that the government must act in defense of the individual rights of its citizens. Of course, the problem is to apply the principles of Objectivism to this case.

If having a DNA database of all citizens were essential to upholding justice, then it would be perfectly reasonable for the government to force all citizens to provide a DNA sample.

In order to be a citizen of the country (i.e. to live in a country which has a government established to protect individual rights by banning force), if DNA tests and a database are necessary for enforcing the laws that ban force, DNA testing and a database would be necessary for the protection of citizens' rights. If this were the case, mandatory DNA samples would be perfectly reasonable for the government to protect rights. I don't know that these conditions have been met, at least now in the advancement of technology, but if so I would agree with a mandatory DNA database.

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In order to be a citizen of the country (i.e. to live in a country which has a government established to protect individual rights by banning force), if DNA tests and a database are necessary for enforcing the laws that ban force, DNA testing and a database would be necessary for the protection of citizens' rights.  If this were the case, mandatory DNA samples would be perfectly reasonable for the government to protect rights.  I don't know that these conditions have been met, at least now in the advancement of technology, but if so I would agree with a mandatory DNA database.

The only proper use of force is in retaliation against those who initiate it. Thus, before government can act, it must have proof that someone has initiated force, i.e. it must prove that a crime has been committed.

Once that burden is met, the government may then use (retaliatory) force to compel samples and collect evidence, with safeguards in place to minimize the chance that force will be used against the wrong individual.

What you are proposing is the possibility that, under some unspecified set of conditions, it might be that the only way for government to protect all our rights is to violate some of them. Can you provide any evidence to support such a possibility?

If not, then it seems to me your proposition is arbitrary, i.e. one for which no supporting or contradicting evidence exists.

The existence of the United States and its relatively successful criminal justice system -- one that operates without a mandatory DNA database, without a mandatory fingerprint database, without a mandatory collection of fibers from our clothing and cars, etc. -- certainly proves the opposite of your proposition -- it proves that it is possible to protect our rights without violating any of them.

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The only proper use of force is in retaliation against those who initiate it.  Thus, before government can act, it must have proof that someone has initiated force, i.e. it must prove that a crime has been committed.

Once that burden is met, the government may then use (retaliatory) force to compel samples and collect evidence, with safeguards in place to minimize the chance that force will be used against the wrong individual.

...

Are you talking about the proof that a law enforcement officer has to have in order the charge someone with a crime, or the proof that the courts need to convict someone of a crime? The respective burdens of proof for the two circumstances are two very different things.

The amount of evidence required for a police officer to use force to arrest somebody is very small. A lot of it is completely contingent on the cop's independent judgment of a particular situation.

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What is the Objectivist viewpoint about requiring suspects to submit to mandatory DNA tests? Even when there is nothing but circumstantial evidence in the case?

There can't be one, officially, since only Ayn Rand can determine what is the Objectivist viewpoint, and this was a non-issue in her lifetime. However, it would be exactly analogous to any other case of requiring a person to cooperate in a police investigation, such as providing a fingerprint. All such compulsion is governed by the courts, not the police (as others have said). The question is whether it is right for the courts to compel a person to provide evidence, for example can the courts compel a person to confess to a crime or otherwise provide evidence that can be used against them. The general and, admittedly unsatisfactory answer is "it depends on what the law says". The fact of the matter is that the practice of granting warrants in the US is entirely wrong -- warrants are granted (by someone) quite regularly, without the necessity for substantial proof that a suspect is indeed a criminal.

What about requiring everyone to register their DNA. Do the innocent have any reason to refuse?
I can't see any way that that (requiring DNA registration) could be consistent with Objectivism. The innocent do not need any reason to refuse, and any innocent person has a very good reason to not comply (the state forensic scientists and prosecutors are not entirely trustworthy, it turns out). Something to bear in mind is that a DNA sample (or fingerprint identification, or various other bits of forensic evidence) carry with them a considerable room for scientific abuse -- voiceprints, for example, have been abused in the courts. This is not a problem if you have a clever, high-priced attorney who knows how to demonstrate the invalidity of the such-and-such test, but it's a gamble to assume that your attorney can demolish the evidentiary argument. And of course, you should assume that if you are a suspect, then you will be tried.

Does the governments role to protect the public allow an invasion of privacy?

Well, the government does not have the role of protecting the public. And while I assume you shortened your statement for convenience, the convenient answer is not the best, because it could lead to the inference that building flood control dams and regulating commerce is in the realm of what government is supposed to do, as long as it "protects the public".

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The only proper use of force is in retaliation against those who initiate it.  Thus, before government can act, it must have proof that someone has initiated force, i.e. it must prove that a crime has been committed.

May I take it from this that you are against pre-emptive wars, then?

...the government may then use (retaliatory) force to compel samples and collect evidence...

Correct.

What you are proposing is the possibility that, under some unspecified set of conditions, it might be that the only way for government to protect all our rights is to violate some of them.  Can you provide any evidence to support such a possibility?

No, that would be impossible. Rights that violate one another are not rights. I don't advocate violating rights.

Let me illustrate my point with an example, which will help to concretize the issue and perhaps you can better understand where I'm coming from.

I can't find the specific details online, though I have looked, but I heard this while watching a show on CourtTV (Forensic Files?) a year or two ago. It was about the first DNA test in court, or the first of a certain kind, or the first resulting in a conviction...or perhaps one of those just in a particular state...but either way it was an important case early on in the history of DNA evidence.

There was a rapist on the loose in a very small town (under 1000 people, I think). Someone's rights had already been violated with a very bad crime, and many other women's rights were threatened. Given DNA evidence collected after the crime, all investigators really needed was a sample of DNA from all adult males in the community to figure out who committed the crime. Their other evidence wasn't getting them close to solving the crime.

What they did was make every adult male (might have been all adults? or an age range?) give a DNA sample. As a result, the rapist was caught and everyone's rights were protected. The raped woman got some justice, and so did the criminal.

I think, in a case like this, it wasn't a problem for the investigators to use a sort of "blanket" DNA testing procedure. Rights were violated very severely, and the government had a right to use a small amount of retaliatory force in order to find the criminal. This doesn't mean they had the right to go searching everyone's house or that cops should just go shoot everyone in a town because eventually they'll get the suspect...all it means is that in some cases the violation of rights demands a use of retaliatory force to find and punish the criminal. This is not entirely unlike subpoenas, which were discussed on another thread a while back. The source of the force being used (in a retaliatory way by the state) is the criminal in initiating force against the victim and requiring a proper defense and protection. It is not the government violating rights, but the criminal.

Justice and the government's ability to defend individual rights come before the rights ever getting implemented in practice. If the government requires certain things in order to do so, these things pre-suppose rights. As such, if a "blanket" DNA test were done in order to defend individual rights and protect them in a way that before was impossible...but technology has made possible...then that is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.

I'm not saying that it necessarily is appropriate right now...but if there are a lot of crimes in a large society that do not appear solvable presently, but which a DNA database would solve--especially murders and even moreso murders that still potentially result in a murderer being on the loose--then it is an appropriate use of retaliatory force to build such a database and to carry out justice. I know DNA tests are currently very expensive, and many cases are solved without them. That's why I made sure to say this was a technological issue.

...proves the opposite of your proposition -- it proves that it is possible to protect our rights without violating any of them.

I didn't propose to protect some people's rights while violating others. Rather, what I propose is that if a DNA database makes the protection of rights possible--especially in a way far superior to the way it is done today--then it would be perfectly acceptable to make one. I'm not saying that it would be a violation of rights, but rather the opposite--that it would be in defense of individual rights (as a retaliatory use of force by the government). Since justice and the ability of the government to enforce rights comes before, in reality, the government's protection of rights, I consider this hierarchically prior to the question of rights.

If you disagree with that assessment, feel free to say so...but please don't accuse me of advocating the violation of rights.

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Are you talking about the proof that a law enforcement officer has to have in order the charge someone with a crime, or the proof that the courts need to convict someone of a crime?  The respective burdens of proof for the two circumstances are two very different things.

I agree that the burdens of proof for the two instances are different, but the principle is the same: Government must have evidence that someone has initiated force before it can employ retaliatory force.

The amount of evidence required for a police officer to use force to arrest somebody is very small.  A lot of it is completely contingent on the cop's independent judgment of a particular situation.
I understand, which is one reason why police should be among the highest paid and best trained government workers we employ. Unfortunately, in many places that is decidedly not the case.
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May I take it from this that you are against pre-emptive wars, then?

No, I am in favor of pre-emptive war against any nation that poses a threat to us. A threat is an initiation of force. If someone points a gun at your head, you need not wait for him to pull the trigger before using retaliatory force.

Likewise, we need not wait for Iran to launch a nuclear-tipped ICBM at us -- we have the right to destroy them now, before they make good on their overt threats to destroy us.

There was a rapist on the loose in a very small town (under 1000 people, I think).  Someone's rights had already been violated with a very bad crime, and many other women's rights were threatened.  Given DNA evidence collected after the crime, all investigators really needed was a sample of DNA from all adult males in the community to figure out who committed the crime.  Their other evidence wasn't getting them close to solving the crime.

What they did was make every adult male (might have been all adults?  or an age range?) give a DNA sample.  As a result, the rapist was caught and everyone's rights were protected.  The raped woman got some justice, and so did the criminal.

But in this case, the government did have evidence that force had been initiated and they did have at least some basis for identifying a pool of suspects. This is consistent with what I said in my last post.

Contrast this with a forced, blanket collection of DNA to solve possible future crimes. Such a collection, in the absence of proof of a crime or evidence implicating me as a suspect, would constitute the initiation of force and would be a violation of my rights.

I think, in a case like this, it wasn't a problem for the investigators to use a sort of "blanket" DNA testing procedure.
Provided there was some basis for identifying who is included under the blanket and who is excluded. I saw the same show, and though I cannot remember the specifics, my recollection is that the police had significant evidence that the rapist lived in that community. That, coupled with the exclusion of males obviously not fitting the attacker's description, produced a pool of suspects. This is proper, in this context.

Rights were violated very severely, and the government had a right to use a small amount of retaliatory force in order to find the criminal.  This doesn't mean they had the right to go searching everyone's house or that cops should just go shoot everyone in a town because eventually they'll get the suspect...all it means is that in some cases the violation of rights demands a use of retaliatory force to find and punish the criminal.  This is not entirely unlike subpoenas, which were discussed on another thread a while back.  The source of the force being used (in a retaliatory way by the state) is the criminal in initiating force against the victim and requiring a proper defense and protection.  It is not the government violating rights, but the criminal.
I agree.

Justice and the government's ability to defend individual rights come before the rights ever getting implemented in practice.
I am not sure in what sense you mean that certain things "come before" other things. Time wise? Priority wise?

If the government requires certain things in order to do so, these things pre-suppose rights.  As such, if a "blanket" DNA test were done in order to defend individual rights and protect them in a way that before was impossible...but technology has made possible...then that is a perfectly acceptable thing to do.
Man's rights are inherent. Their existence does not depend on government, only their protection does. One cannot say that if something prevents government from protecting our rights, our rights disappear.

You are again projecting the possibility of a situation in which government must violate our rights (albeit a small violation) in order to protect our rights against much more egregious violations. Is there any evidence to suggest this belongs in the realm of possibilities? The case of the village rapist does not support this possbility, because in that case the government proved that force had been initiated and compiled evidence identifying a pool of suspects before any retaliatory force was used.

I'm not saying that it necessarily is appropriate right now...but if there are a lot of crimes in a large society that do not appear solvable presently, but which a DNA database would solve--especially murders and even moreso murders that still potentially result in a murderer being on the loose--then it is an appropriate use of retaliatory force to build such a database and to carry out justice.
This example is modified because now you interject the hypothetical fact that government has met half of its burden -- it has proven that force has been initiated (murders have been committed). However, in the absence of any evidence linking me to the murders, a forced collection of my DNA would still be a violation of my rights.

I know DNA tests are currently very expensive, and many cases are solved without them.  That's why I made sure to say this was a technological issue.

I didn't propose to protect some people's rights while violating others.  Rather, what I propose is that if a DNA database makes the protection of rights possible--especially in a way far superior to the way it is done today--then it would be perfectly acceptable to make one.

Well, you have two different cases here. One is about a situation in which forced DNA collection is required to make the protection of rights possible. This is the same hypothetical situation you alluded to earlier, and the same question applies: what is the evidence that such a situation would arise?

The second case is where you suggest that a DNA database would make enforcement more efficient. But you cannot justify initiating force (to collect DNA) on the grounds that it makes the use of retaliatory force more efficient.

I'm not saying that it would be a violation of rights, but rather the opposite--that it would be in defense of individual rights (as a retaliatory use of force by the government).  Since justice and the ability of the government to enforce rights comes before, in reality, the government's protection of rights, I consider this hierarchically prior to the question of right.
I don't understand the distinction between enforcing rights and protecting rights. Nor do I agree that anything trumps man's rights, if that is what you are suggesting.

If you disagree with that assessment, feel free to say so...but please don't accuse me of advocating the violation of rights.
I think what we disagree on is what constitutes a violation of rights. You believe that forced collection of DNA is justified if it is necessary to solve crimes, that in such cases, forced collection is not a violation of rights.

I see no evidence that such a case will exist. As technology advances, law enforcement gains access to all sorts of new forensic technology to aid in solving crime: hair analysis, fiber analysis, voice recognition, etc. This makes it increasingly unlikely that the police will be forced to rely on any one technology, does it not?

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I'm not going to respond to every point you made because I think I'd be repeating myself. I'll respond to the ones I think help clarify the view I'm putting forth.

Contrast this with a forced, blanket collection of DNA to solve possible future crimes.  Such a collection, in the absence of proof of a crime or evidence implicating me as a suspect, would constitute the initiation of force and would be a violation of my rights.

Given that there are lots of murders throughout the country, and if many unsolved could be solved were a DNA database available, I'm just saying that this is a proper way for the government to uphold individual rights. To use retaliatory force to get all citizens' DNA would be the proper function of the government in protecting everyone in the country's individual rights by removing murderers and helping to remove the threat of murder.

I am not sure in what sense you mean that certain things "come before" other things.  Time wise? Priority wise?

Hierarchically (conceptually).

Man's rights are inherent.  Their existence does not depend on government, only their protection does.  One cannot say that if something prevents government from protecting our rights, our rights disappear.

Inherent in what? Outside of the possibility of a government having a possible way to protect them, what meaning would they have in reality?

You are again projecting the possibility of a situation in which government must violate our rights (albeit a small violation) in order to protect our rights against much more egregious violations.

I don't advocate the government violating rights. Period. I say this--the government's powers to uphold individual rights and make living in a free society possible come before and presuppose the protection of individual rights in any country. For the second time, please don't accuse me of advocating the violation of individual rights. If you disagree that this is presupposed by individual rights, say so--but realize that's what I'm saying, not that the violation of rights is okay in any situation.

...you cannot justify initiating force (to collect DNA) on the grounds that it makes the use of retaliatory force more efficient.

I'm not trying to. I'm saying that if a new technology makes the protection of rights--which was impossible before--possible, then it should be used. If DNA testing is one of these things, it should be used. If a DNA database of all citizens is essential in this regard to protecting individual rights against serious threats, then it is appropriate.

I don't think that this is a violation of rights--I think it's an expansion of the government's ability to protect individual rights based on technology increases.

I don't understand the distinction between enforcing rights and protecting rights.  Nor do I agree that anything trumps man's rights, if that is what you are suggesting.

Nothing that comes conceptually after man's rights can "trump" man's rights (fallacy of the stolen concept). Man's rights do not "trump" anything coming conceptually before them (same fallacy).

I see no evidence that such a case will exist.  As technology advances, law enforcement gains access to all sorts of new forensic technology to aid in solving crime: hair analysis, fiber analysis, voice recognition, etc.  This makes it increasingly unlikely that the police will be forced to rely on any one technology, does it not?

If technology advances and makes a "blanket DNA collection" unnecessary, then it is not proper. It is only proper if it is important in upholding justice and individual rights, which is what I've said before.

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To use retaliatory force to get all citizens' DNA would be the proper function of the government in protecting everyone in the country's individual rights by removing murderers and helping to remove the threat of murder.

So you are saying that as collecting DNA will enable a government to uphold individual rights, DNA collection is proper.

Any initiation of force against an innocent person is wrong. Forcing a person to give his DNA would be an initiation of force.

DNA collection might help in solving murder cases but it will be at the expense of individual rights.

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I am having trouble reconciling what you say you are saying, versus what I read on the screen!

Given that there are lots of murders throughout the country, and if many unsolved could be solved were a DNA database available, I'm just saying that this is a proper way for the government to uphold individual rights.  To use retaliatory force to get all citizens' DNA would be the proper function of the government in protecting everyone in the country's individual rights by removing murderers and helping to remove the threat of murder.

I think this is the essence of the disagreement. What you propose switches the function of government from protector of man's rights to solver of crimes and remover of threats. This elevates the means of protecting rights (those means being the solving of crimes and removing criminals) into an end in itself.

Consider the consequences of such a switch. What if solving crimes required the torture of suspects? What if the prevention of crimes requires the confiscation of all firearms? What if the removal of threat required a sunset to sunrise curfew? Such actions differ only in degree, not in principle, from your proposed forced DNA collection. On what grounds would one be justified but not the others?

Inherent in what? 
In man.

Outside of the possibility of a government having a possible way to protect them, what meaning would they have in reality?
Rights exist, whether or not any government can protect them. For example, the government of South Vietnam was unable to protect the rights of its citizens against the hordes from North Vietnam. Nonetheless, the rights of the South Vietnamese still existed, and what the North Vietnamese did was a massive violation of those rights.

I'm not trying to.  I'm saying that if a new technology makes the protection of rights--which was impossible before--possible, then it should be used.  If DNA testing is one of these things, it should be used.  If a DNA database of all citizens is essential in this regard to protecting individual rights against serious threats, then it is appropriate.

I don't think that this is a violation of rights--I think it's an expansion of the government's ability to protect individual rights based on technology increases.

I'm having trouble believing that you really mean this. A "technology increase" cannot justify the initiation of force. If tomorrow an absolutely infallable truth detector were developed, this would not give the government the right to use it on everyone, even if doing so would solve lots of crime.
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