A couple of people are wondering what exactly my problem is with the DNA database, so I figured I'd lay out my concerns in a post.
There are four reasons I am leery about a DNA database, and none of them are of the "what if the government are mean ol' clone-happy bastards" variety.
The first concern is the most banal: how much is this actually going to cost to create, maintain, and make sure is running the way it's supposed to? Whilst I'm not particularly concerned about government misuse of such an asset, bureaucratic incompetence is certainly something worthy of consideration.
Now, obviously when something is obviously a good idea, cost isn't something I'd be bleating about quite so much. Contra S. Spielbergo, I have a hard time seeing the obvious bonus to holding everyone's DNA on file.
That would be problem number 2: what are the benefits of the database? In the past I've likened DNA testing to the police searching your house. The police have the right, given sufficient reasonable suspicion, to enter my flat and search for incriminating evidence. It's understood that my flat is my property (well, not mine exactly, but for the sake of argument), and it can't be invaded by the authorities unless they have a pretty good reason.
As far as I can see, if my flat is mine, then my double helix is definitely mine. If the police want to test my DNA, they better have a court order with them. It seems to me an obvious no-brainer, as far as due process is concerned. And if you do need that order to test someone's genetic material, why not just get it when you need it? If the government takes my DNA from me at a point when I am innocent of any crime, then later I commit a crime, they test the DNA at the scene, and come arrest me on that and that alone, how is that not a violation of the idea that we should be free from self-incrimination? There's a reason we have the right to silence. In that sense, Big G's point that "no-one is going to get convicted on the strength of DNA evidence alone" is irrelevant. All that matters is that the chain of evidence gathering begins with a bullshit call, just in the same way that a case will be thrown out if it started with an illegal car search, irrelevant of whether that search had turned up three dead hookers and a keg of anthrax.
So you can't use the database to just drum up a list of suspects, or at least you shouldn't. You can do whatever tests you want on the DNA samples you find at a crime scene, but you don't get to just run it against a whole bunch of people, at most one of whom isn't entirely innocent, and hope you'll get a couple of juicy leads. Especially since DNA matching isn't nearly as precise as the movies try to make it look. Like every other human system, there are flaws and there are complications.
This ties into my third problem, which is a general one with the process itself. It's a tricky business, is DNA testing, with lots of tricky conditional probabilities floating around. There actually exists legal precedent on the amount of probability you are allowed to give to a jury (it being the subject of supermen), and all this stuff about false positives and population frequencies (to say nothing of the Prosecutor's Fallacy) can overwhelm a jury, and has on at least one occasion. All of which means I am worried about the possibility of relying upon DNA evidence in court. Again, this is the problem with Big G's argument; cases have existed in which DNA similarity was the strongest piece of evidence in a trial. If you present enough circumstantial evidence and then heap genetic testing on top of it, you may well get a conviction which you wouldn't have had with the circumstantial evidence alone. So, and whilst I realise this is simply a suspicion at this point, I'd be worried about an increased reliance upon DNA evidence that such a database might represent.
And finally, and this is pretty minor but relevant nonetheless, my genetic data belongs to me. Everyone has their own personal opinions on the relationship between the government and the individual, obviously. As far as I'm concerned, they can have my taxes (on the occasions that I'm actually required to pay them) as the price of living in a civilised society. They can have the details they need for me to have a bank account and travel overseas as the price of me not having to hoard gold under my bed or get slaughtered by invading Visigoths, respectively.
What do I get out of handing over my DNA? An increased possibility of recognising my body if I die in mysterious circumstances? If that's all we're talking about we could set up a far smaller data base of families who have lost members, against which John or Jane Does could be referenced.
Like I said, this last point isn't particularly major, but I do think that a cogent and compelling case needs to be made by the government before they receive anything from its citizenry, and I don't see that here.
In conclusion, then, it will be expensive, it would be outrageous to use it without the same due process required of other searches, it might well add to an already worrying problem regarding how the justice system deals with the technology, and it violates the idea that the government should only take from us what it truly needs.
That's my problem. Have at it in comments.
Oh, and just for the record, I agree entirely with Big G that increased detention times are a bigger problem. I also think my girlfriend murdering my family is a bigger problem than her cheating on me, but I reserve the right to be pissed if I find her in bed with some other guy.