Writers rally 'round DNA
Ronald Bailey makes some excellent points in his essay concerning DNA and privacy ["All about you: It could already be on file," February 24].
As with any forensic technology, the issue of individual civil rights must be taken into consideration when collecting, analyzing, and storing DNA evidence. I must, however, take some exception to Bailey's statement that "For better or worse, we all now live in a CSI world."
This idea is primarily a myth perpetrated by television. While DNA is a powerful forensic tool, it is not necessarily, as one assistant prosecutor confided to me, a magic bullet for determining innocence or guilt. Furthermore– while the state of Virginia is something of an exception– the reality is that the majority of American crime labs are seriously under-funded.
In Los Angeles County, for example, which has one of the biggest populations of any in the US, DNA is seldom used to solve murder or rape cases. The backlog of DNA samples to be processed is so much larger than the available equipment, staff, and facilities that the labs are lucky to be able to process DNA samples before a case goes to trial. Meanwhile, in other countries where there's better support for the forensic sciences, DNA is being used to apprehend burglars.
Several crime/mystery novelists, including me, are part of what is known as the Crime Lab Project, an effort to educate the public about the benefits of DNA forensic technology and lobby Congress to increase funding for DNA forensic testing, most notably through the Paul Coverdell National Forensic Science Improvement Act. I urge all Americans to learn more about the reality and the benefits of DNA forensic science and to support increased public funding for crime labs.