Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Disc Error

Last year, Netherlands police sent a CD to police forces around Europe, containing DNA gathered from thousands of crime scenes in the Netherlands.

The British police aren't actually paid to solve Dutch crimes, so they did what anyone would do - shove the CD in a drawer. When they eventually got around to looking at the data, they found a very small number of matches against the UK DNA database.

Opposition policiticians are making a ridiculous fuss about this. David Cameron describes it as a "catastrophic error of judgement", but that's rather unfair. Busy people have to juggle priorities. The police receive and collect huge amounts of data, and it is immensely costly to sift through and interpret it all. So what are they supposed to do, drop everything whenever their Dutch friends pop a CD in the post?

Of course, any scandal associated with mislaid data helps to remind people about privacy and security, and general Government incompetance, but that doesn't exactly seem to be the problem here.

The problem here is the belief that the existence of data establishes an imperative to DO SOMETHING with the data. And DNA data is "scientific", which makes this imperative all the stronger. This is exactly why many people don't like the idea of collecting DNA data in the first place.

Source: DNA disc failings 'catastrophic' (BBC News, Feb 20th 2008)

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