A new book about the use of DNA-based techniques in the criminal justice system is 2011's first biopolitical "must-read." Genetic Justice: DNA Databanks, Criminal Investigations, and Civil Liberties
by Sheldon Krimsky and Tania Simoncelli is the first book-length analysis of how new applications and understandings of DNA forensic technologies are redefining civil liberties, privacy, and autonomy.
Krimsky is chair and co-founder of the Council for Responsible Genetics
and professor of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning at Tufts University. Simoncelli, currently a special assistant at the FDA, previously served as a board member of the Council for Responsible Genetics, a science advisor at the ACLU, and a staff member at the Center for Genetics and Society.
Krimsky and Simoncelli thoroughly explain the oft-ignored fallibility of DNA evidence and explore how DNA databanks, originally purposed to include only sex offenders, are rapidly expanding
to include unconvicted arrestees, misdemeanants, and even minors. Their accounts of forensic techniques such as DNA dragnets
, familial searching
and DNA phenotyping will give most readers pause. They show how decisions about such applications are being made largely without public participation.
The book laudably insists that policies and practices associated with DNA forensics must take into account on-the-ground realities that go beyond the criminal justice system, and reflect societal commitments to justice in a broader sense.
"The pursuit of justice involves more than simply the resolution and reduction of crime. Fairness, equality, and protection of basic civil liberties are as much a part of justice as are conviction and punishment of the guilty. If technology is to be used in the pursuit of justice, it should be used in ways that reflect a society's commitment to maintaining privacy and autonomy, minimizing racial discrimination and injustices, and contributing to overarching fairness in the criminal justice system."
Genetic Justice elegantly combines case studies and structured analysis with sobering proposals for how to redirect the alarming trajectory of DNA forensics toward one that truly promotes societal justice and civil liberties. For anyone concerned about DNA technology, evolving concepts of justice, or the erosion of the basic freedoms of our democracy, Genetic Justice is a book not to miss.
Previously in Biopolitical Times: