9th Conference European Sociological Association

RN24 Science and Technology

2009-09-05 11:00:00 2009-09-05 12:30:00 Saturday, 5 September 11:00 - 12:30 Emerging Technologies Building AA, AA.225

"What should we fear?" Forensic DNA databasing in Portugal and public (un)trust

The Portuguese forensic DNA database was recently established by the publication of the law 5/2008 in the 12th February 2008, following the earlier widespread adoption in many other European countries. This setting up of a forensic DNA database was accompanied by a clear enthusiasm from the part of the Portuguese government, supporting the idea that it was needed that Portugal followed more advanced countries in matters of DNA criminal investigation and transnational database cooperation regarding security policies and crime fighting. Despite this political enthusiasm, no doubt many citizens felt uneasy about these developments because of a low public confidence in the political institutions and in the criminal justice system compared with other European nations
This paper intents to provide a contribution for a discussion of some issues which are omitted or at least clearly reduced in the legislation, in public debates and in official representations of science and DNA technologies. We will critically examine some traces of this political projecting of positive images on the uses of DNA technologies, exploring two main issues: pressure for expansion and building of public trust. Our empirical basis will be interviews with forensic and law experts. The analysis of these discourses provide valuable insights for the further mapping and understanding of some cultural assumptions, values, unwritten codes and practices that can produce a sort of soft or informal governance of the forensic DNA database.
I will explore three topics of concern: 1) how a developing country in European context was pushed to the importance of DNA profiling and databasing and might be very soon pressured to expand the uses and scope of these technologies; 2) how the political narratives is used to garner the confidence of the citizens uses and based on cultural assumptions of neutrality of science and on the alleged value of DNA technology to criminal justice?s efficiency; 3) the implications of the fact that the mechanisms of civic accountability and participation in the modes of organisation and maintenance of genetic data are missing, with the State emerging as the single guarantor of the public interest.