DNA databases and the erosion of freedom from Left and Right

This post was written by Jack on February 28, 2009
Posted Under: Capitalism,Criminal Justice

The ‘revelation’ that the DNA of millions of UK citizens, including more than 1.1 million under-18s, and regardless of whether or not they had ever committed or been suspected of committing a criminal offence, has been retained on the national database does not seem to have kicked up anywhere near the furore that might reasonably have been anticipated following the disclosure of an activity that runs counter to almost any notion of civil liberties in a free society. This fact, perhaps more revealing than the actual story itself (most of us probably already knew that something of this type was happening, though not on this unprecedentedly creepy scale) seems to elucidate a few key points about society and politics.

Firstly, it is a more significant than ever indicator that the current political classes are focusing with single minded determination on providing, amongst other things, ‘security and safety’ as their main contribution to the welfare of the nation; to reaffirm a fairly hackneyed point, real wealth redistribution is now well outside of their politics, and the related vision of an equal and secure society has decisively changed to accommodate the gaping ideological space left by a complete absence of re-alignment of the prevailing system of social justice.  This has taken the form of an exponential strengthening of surveillance-oriented and repressive measures such as these, in addition to the paternalistic discouragement of those dratted pleasures of the great unwashed, smoking, drinking, and unhealthy foods and the regressive drugs policy which has seen the eminently sensible, scientifically and medically-rooted classificatory system published in the Lancet in 2007 rejected and cannabis reclassified. On a somewhat tangential note, it is striking how Brownites are prepared to worship at the altar of Milton Friedman and his neo-liberal brethren when it comes to fiscal and financial policy, but ignore the late economist’s utterly sensible arguments in favour of the full legalisation of drugs as a means to cripple organised crime and reduce exponential growth in the price of, for example, heroin, estimated to have appreciated in value by thirty times by the point when it reaches the vein of the user-something which has massive implications for the rate of street crime and violence.

This is possibly the best way perspective from which to view these measures; it seems facile to come at the problem from an affectedly dystopian, ‘its all just like 1984, Orwell was right’ angle; anthropologists approaching historical social problems from a (and forgive my under-elaboration here) braodly ‘functionalist’ social-scientific angle  have suggested that, in the 17th century, as a more fully marketised economy was beginning to emerge in England-with the associated decline of the traditional ‘moral economy’-accusations of witchcraft made by settled or more affluent householders against transient beggars proliferated. An emerging, huge gap in the fabric of the social and ideological thought systems of these people, away from traditional notions according to which they offered shelter to the destitute, led to a situation whereby their whole intellectual system had to be re-calibrated in order to justify their abandonment of old principles. In their case, the means by which this was achieved became obvious. In the case of modern New Labour in particular, if you will forgive the lengthy analogy, this has taken the form of a fundamental shift of paramaters from the economic and social to the political and legal in terms of defining within their ideological structure what it means to create a just and secure society. Especially helpful, though I admit I am stretching the parallel a bit here, in the absence of witches, has been the setting up of straw men, especially in the guise of those evil terrorists (see an earlier post on this site concerning new guidelines governing what constitutes an ‘extremist’) and the externalisation of the supposed major threat to society (when in fact it is deprivation and inequality).

Secondly, it is now clear that those on the right of the political spectrum, with their banshee-screams about the erosion of civil liberties, are plainly doing this as a way to make political capital, and/or believe that freedoms only exist as long as they correspond roughly with their ideas of what a sensible use of freedom might mean. The Daily Mail, Telegraph and the Conservative party can foam at the mouth as much as they want, but whilst they remain fairly quiet on issues such as these (and I am positive that their quiescence in this matter in particular has been nicely encouraged by the fact that random DNA databases led to the conviction of two ‘sick pervert killers’ being convicted this week by virtue of them happening to be on it), and whilst they rail against the destruction of ancient freedoms with one fist and demand the sacking and humilation of the likes of Max Moseley, or for that matter, anyone caught (in private) indulging in ‘deviant’ sexual behaviours of which they do not approve, their complicity in this shocking structure is self-evident.

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Reader Comments


I’m reminded of a fantastic little satirical song called “Where’s the Enemy?” by Leon Rosselson. The chorus goes something like this:

Where’s the enemy? Where’s the enemy?
We just turned round for a minute and he’s gone.
Where’s the enemy? Where’s the enemy?
Without the enemy how can normal life go on?
We need someone to deter, so where’s the bounder? Where’s the cur?
Where’s the evil empire we all loathed and feared?
Where’s the enemy when we need ‘im to show we’re the boys who fight for freedom
Where has the enemy disappeared?

Where’s the enemy? Where’s the enemy?
Surely somebody somewhere must have caught a glimpse
Of the enemy. We need the enemy.
‘Cause how else can we be sure that we’re not wimps?
Where’s that vicious reprobate? We need somebody to hate
Someone preferably foreign, dark and weird
So that decent folks can see that we’re the bulwark of democracy.
Oh where has that enemy disappeared?

Written By Jacob on February 28th, 2009 @ 2:21 pm

‘it is now clear that those on the right of the political spectrum, with their banshee-screams about the erosion of civil liberties, are plainly doing this as a way to make political capital, and/or believe that freedoms only exist as long as they correspond roughly with their ideas of what a sensible use of freedom might mean’

This really is an excellent point. Liberty – in contemporary discourse – has been tamed and domesticated. It has come to refer to, very narrowly, to questions of due process and of criminal justice. It is seen to be under threat only when government explicitally manifests itself as an iron fist. As such great numbers of people who think nothing of forcing people to conform to the dominant cultural and ethical norms can at the same time set themselves up as defenders of liberty.

Written By Reuben on February 28th, 2009 @ 3:35 pm

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