this dna can, and will be used against you

University of Akron wants its employees' DNA sample for a GATTACA-style future, opening a Pandora's box of legal and ethical concerns.
dna helix

Want to work at the University of Akron? Aside from the usual requirements of most employers today, such as a background check, drug tests, credit reports and other pleasantries that put you under the microscope in the name of security, you may also be required to submit a sample of your DNA. One adjunct professor quit as a way to protest the policy and judging by the commentary on the story, there are plenty of employees not happy about this idea either. It’s one thing to endure this level of scrutiny if you want to work for government agencies or run for public office. But teaching on a semester by semester basis? It has all the signs of a cover-your-ass policy gone terribly, terribly awry during a brainstorm by committee and wandering deep into asinine territory.

How exactly does the University of Akron plan to use the DNA of its new employees? Luckily it’s not to provide data to insurance companies which could potentially still get their hands on it thanks to a loophole in HIPAA, but because the University is preparing for a future when genetic material will replace fingerprints…

Laura Martinez Massie, a spokeswoman for Akron, said that the university would not comment on the resignation of Williams. She also said that to date, the university has not collected DNA and has no plans to do so, but is “merely reserving the right to do so.”

Massie said that Akron wants “a safe environment for all of its students and employees” and that “DNA testing was included in the policy because there have been national discussions that [may] indicate that in the future, reliance on fingerprinting will diminish and DNA for criminal identification will be the more prominent technology.” If this happens, she said, [the University of] Akron wants “the flexibility to adopt the new technology if we found it necessary.”

Oh terrific. Is there any other data the University would like to have the right to collect based on discussions in the press? Like retinal scans, access to bank accounts of potential employees so they could monitor and flag suspicious transactions, or maybe RFID chips designed to be implanted into persons of interest to track their movements? Sounds like a ridiculous hyperbole? It is. But so is collecting DNA based on media reports that a fingerprint is no longer considered to be as strong as genetic evidence in court. This is not to mention that as future employers try to collect DNA from their workers, they’re opening serious potential to abuse. Since some experiments have shown that the kind of genetic proof usually held up in court can be faked, managers with a password to the database could use it to frame employees for their crimes. This is a case of CYA that can be not only a PR disaster but a legal one as well.

[ story via Higher Ed and Rebecca Skloot ]

# science // bureaucracy / dna / genetics


  Show Comments