Privacy & Security

How Babies are Like Sex Offenders

Your DNA is your genetic blueprint.  It's unique to you and your DNA profile is the equivalent of a bar code stamped on your forehead.

Only, you don't own this information.  In the USA, for instance, 15 states now collect DNA samples from anyone who's arrested.  In more than a dozen others, anyone convicted of a crime must submit a DNA sample.   Juveniles under 18 must provide DNA samples in 35 states upon conviction, and in some states upon arrest. The FBI now collects DNA from anyone arrested for a federal crime, and from detained immigrants.  Failure to submit a DNA sample is a felony in some situations.

All these DNA samples become part of the FBI's National DNA Index System, originally set up to track sex offenders.  These samples are automatically matched against DNA left at crime scenes to try to identify criminal suspects.

U.S. courts have generally upheld such collection procedures, and automated matches, from arrestees, convicts, and ex-convicts.  The logic is that if you commit a crime, you have diminished privacy rights.  Indeed, one court ruled that police can taser a suspect who refuses to voluntarily submit a DNA sample.

If you're not a criminal, perhaps you don't find this DNA data collection objectionable.  But what crime has a baby committed?

In 2008, President George W. Bush signed into law legislation that authorizes the federal to screen the DNA of all babies born in the USA.  The official purpose of the database is for genetic research, but critics describe it as the first step towards a national DNA databank.

When your baby is born, the doctor takes a blood sample from it.  You don't need to provide permission, since federal law mandates the collection.  Your baby's DNA is sent to a lab where it's screened for dozens of genetic diseases.  In many states, such as Florida, babies' DNA is stored indefinitely.  Some states "anonymize" this data by removing the name of the baby from the DNA profile.

If you object to this, guess what?  You may not  have the right to refuse having your baby's DNA collected, tested, stored indefinitely.  Your baby's DNA doesn't belong to you, or to your baby.  It belongs to the government, and the government can make any use of it that Congress authorizes.

For instance, under what I call the "surveillance creep" principle, I think there's close to a 100% probability that your baby's DNA will eventually become part of the National DNA Index System.  When that happens, the law, in essence, will treat babies the same as sex offenders.   What's more,when the Obamacare law comes into effect, how likely do you think it will be the genetic profiles now collected on babies will be used to prioritize treatment for certain diseases?  Or to ration treatment for "at-risk" children?   I for one think it's very likely.

If you don't like the idea of the government collecting your baby's DNA and keeping it indefinitely, contact your state's vital records department to see how long your state keeps DNA samples, and if you have the right to request the samples be destroyed.

You could also arrange for a private birth at home and skip the DNA screening.  But this may violate state law, so before you take this step, find out what penalty, if any, exists for DNA refuseniks.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Nestmann

(An earlier version of this post was published by The Sovereign Society,

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