The innocent have nothing to hide?

DNA Carnival image, via Human Rights in IrelandHuman Rights in Ireland‘s superb Blog Carnival on DNA Databases (context | 2010 Bill (pdf) here and here | mass screening | European experience | Australia | Scotland) picks up and amplifies my concerns about DNA privacy. In particular, David O’Dwyer‘s post argues that the common trope that “the Innocent have nothing to fear!” exacerbates “the growing perception of ‘us’ and ‘them’ in society – ‘Us’ the law abiding citizens and ‘Them’, the law breakers, the ‘Barbarians at the gate'” (by no means a uniquely Irish concern). He concludes that

While these laws may seem to be in ‘our’ interest

…There has been sufficient miscarriages of justice in the history of crime in this and in other jurisdictions to indicate a belief that ‘the innocent have nothing to fear’ is not necessarily the whole answer.

McGuinness J –Gilligan v Criminal Assets Bureau [1997] IEHC 106; [1998] 3 IR 185 (26 June 1997) [118].

McGuinness J’s dictum was approved by Hardiman J in the Supreme Court in O’C v DPP [2000] IESC 58 (19 May 2000) [195]. Concerns over the too-easy invocation of the trope have animated previous posts on this blog. As Toby Stevens observed on The Privacy, Identity & Consent Blog:

Debunking a myth: If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear

… “Nothing to hide, nothing to fear” is a myth, a fallacy, a trojan horse wheeled out by those who can’t justify their surveillance schemes, databases and privacy invasions. It is an argument that insults intelligent individuals and disregards the reality of building and operating an IT system, a business or even a government. If ever you hear someone at a dinner party crank out this old chestnut, grab your coat, make your apologies, run fast and run far. And as William has said before, I wouldn’t want to be stuck at a dinner party next to someone who has nothing to hide – imagine how dull that would be.

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