Defence Force to set up DNA database

The Department of Defence plans to construct a DNA database for Australian service men and women despite "grave concern" for privacy.

The Department of Defence plans to construct a DNA database for Australian service men and women despite "grave concern" for privacy.

Current legislation prohibits the department from imposing mandatory DNA sampling of Defence Force personnel, and any submissions are considered voluntary at this stage.

"In one breath, the provision is said to be voluntary, and in the next breath the statement is made that it is expected that there will be a very high rate of take-up," said Roger Clarke, chairman of the Australian Privacy Foundation (APF) and professor of information science at the Australian National University.

"In other words, if people withhold consent they'll be ordered to submit. This is intended to be 'voluntary' only in the cynical, military use of the word," said Clarke.

The department announced its request for tender late last month to provide a facility to store and catalogue the DNA samples.

Submissions are due to close on 20 November, with a view for the contract to commence in February 2008. Based on evidence from the announcement, the department expects about two thirds of active personnel to offer samples.

The department's request for tender states: "the ADF requires a contractor to provide a secure storage facility for up to about 60,000 DNA samples with the possibility to increase to about 90,000 samples."

"There are significant problems of leakage from government databases," said Clarke.

"They don't do internal security very well, and I think we've really got to move beyond the idea of access control being enough," he said.

Clarke believes that role based access control -- where each individual is assigned a certain level of access based on their role and seniority -- works only up to a point, and that it is far too easy for government employees to retrieve sensitive information.

Instead, Clarke advocates case-based access: "Government employees should have to assert that they are accessing a record in their line of work and be given access according to a relevant, live case number," he said.

Because of the nature of DNA samples, and their sensitivity regarding health matters, Clarke suggested that "there is enormous scope for function creep in such areas as unfair discrimination in employment, driver licensing, and health insurance."

"The chances of there being proper and workable protections for individuals in this are really quite low," he said.

Clarke also expressed concern over the departments plan to outsource the repository: "When a government agency outsources anything like this, they ask a contractor to perform in the same manner as the agency itself, but there are no guarantees of that."

In a statement released today, the APF suggested that the measures being taken by the Defence Force may be a means of "softening up the Australian public for the imposition of DNA collection on everyone."

Clarke told ZDNet Australia to regard this as speculation only, but did say that police and national security agencies "have gone looking for excuses in a number of circumstances to extend their powers" in regards to DNA testing, and that he believed any developments in this area would be "very tenable with the government's position."


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