From Foreign Policy: Which country has the highest percentage of its population in a DNA database? The answer, which may surprise you, is below the fold:
Britain. The country where CCTV monitoring is ubiquitous implemented the world’s first police-maintained DNA database in 1995. According to data gathered by the Economist, in England and Wales, 8.7 percent of the population — one of every 12 people — have had their DNA profile stored in a police database, where samples are kept for six years. (Three-fourths of young British black men are estimated to be in the country’s databases.) No other country comes close — second-place Estonia’s rate is just 2 percent.
My knee-jerk reactions:
1) Is the data skewed by Britain’s relative technological edge? Many repressive regimes are located in developing countries, so a charitable observer could argue that British police are simply ahead of the technological curve. The gap between DNA surveillance in Britain and every other developed country suggests this is not the case, however.
2) A point in favor of the United States’ written constitution? Conservatives are sometimes accused of fetishizing the text of the Constitution, but Britain’s surveillance culture strikes me as a reason to prefer adherence to textually unambiguous prohibitions on certain practices. The threat of Fourth Amendment legal challenges probably deters a lot of creepy surveillance practices that would otherwise survive in legal gray areas.
3) Does the rise of the surveillance state vindicate public choice theory? My knowledge of British politics is limited, but there doesn’t seem to be a strong ideological constituency in favor of expanding domestic surveillance. From the Guardian to Philip Blond, you also see a wide array of political figures inveighing against “the surveillance state.” So why do CCTV and DNA registries persist? The answer may be that an apathetic public plus an entrenched, self-perpetuating bureaucracy guarantees the expansion of domestic surveillance, despite persistent bipartisan distaste for the whole enterprise.