January 05, 2003
Cloning a Threat to Criminal Investigations

One argument against cloning is that it makes personal identification much more difficult. Picture a future in which cloning is used by cults who, say, want to enjoy the company of as many copies of the perfect maximal leader as is possible. Suppose someone committed a murder and multiple witnesses saw him do it. Well, suppose the description of the murderer matches that of the dozens of clones of the leader of the local commune of a religious clone cult of Chaelians which is led by living god Chael. How can the particular clone be identified if they all look the same and all deny committing the murder or knowing who did it?

Worse yet, suppose the Chaelian cult has enemies in another cloning cult led by rival human god Shael. Shael (who has been kind enough to incarnate here on Earth so that humanity can be saved by his infinite wisdom), managed to get a bit of tissue from Chael 20 yearrs ago before Shael and Chael split over an argument involving preferential access to love slaves. Well, Shael (being, after all, a million year old soul who takes a long term view of things) could have arranged to clone Chael and to bring up his secret clone Achael to hate his genetic clone father (perhaps a bit of genetic engineering of neural stem cells to tweak Achael's personality helped with the indoctrination into Shaelianism while allowing Achael to show up on normal genetic tests as pure Chaelian). Achael might have been the person who was seen murdering the victim. The murder victim, btw, was the investment advisor that did work for the Chael commune. This muddies the waters quite well. Either the investment advisor was killed by the Chaelians to cover up rumoured large scale tax fraud or he was killed by the Shaelians to discredit the Chaelians and to bring attention to the questionable financial transactions of the perfidious Chaelians.

There is a fairly consistent rate internationally for the birth of monozygotic (ie identical) twins of about 4 monozygotic twins per 1000 births. The use of reproductive biotechnology increases the rate of twin births but not of identical twin births. Also, aging increases only the rate of non-identical twin births. Cloning is the first technology to come down the pike that has prospects of increasing the birth rate of genetically identical humans.

The correct identification of suspected criminals is already highly problematic. DNA testing of suspects and of convicted criminals has set many free in the face of eyewitness accounts that fingered them as the culprits. This and the evidence of cognitive science research demonstrates that human memory is very faulty and highly suggestible. The need to accurately determine identity has been sharpened by the growing problem of identity theft. The need to quickly and accurately identify people has led to proposals to develop biometric identity databases. Biometric databases are variously derided as threats to liberty or hailed as vital tools to protect liberty.

But an official of the American Civil Liberties Union, while declining to comment on any particular biometric system, said "it's a fact of life" that data bases and "privacy-invading technology" inevitably are used for new purposes and inevitably are abused.

Networks that ID individuals by fingerprint, the iris of the eye, facial features, or voice "enable the ethical user to assert his identity in multiple applications and protect privacy at the same time," Oliver Tattan told United Press International in a phone interview from Dublin. "Voice is the least accurate so far," he said. "Iris is quite good, but there aren't as many vendors and not as much experience with it. Finger is the most mature technology. "

Fortunately, some types of biometric data differ between genetically identical twins. For example, fingerprints are different in identical twins and presumably will be in clones as well (though one can imagine some biotech development that could produce identical fingerprints in clones). However, visual identification or tissue samples for DNA will be the only available information in many criminal cases. Therefore, from a law enforcement standpoint cloning is highly problematic.

Twins already pose the same set of problems that clones would pose in terms of risk of misidentification or inability to identify who did something. Clones that are born decades apart will be less of a problem for visual identification given that they will look to be very different physical ages. However, in the case where only DNA evidence is available multiple living clones are going to be a problem just as much as twins are. Though if one clone was really old or young one may be able to rule out a clone based on physical inability to commit a crime.

Single clones of already dead people will not pose an identification problem except in the most extreme and unlikely case where some biometric database doesn't delete or mark an entry for a deceased person and then their clone eventually allows a sample to be taken for a DNA test to, say, gain access to a bank lockbox that contains precious jewels or other valuables. However, if the death of a person could be kept secret a clone could be grown and used without the biometric data for the original being erased. Still, it seems unlikely that such subterfuge could be maintained for a long enough time to make it worthwhile. Plus, cloning is not useful for creating matches for all types of biometric data. A really secure facility is going to use multiple types of biometric data and some of those types will not be the same for clones.

One way to try to reduce the complications introduced by having so many genetically identical people walking around would be to require cloners to use gene therapy to introduce a unique genetic signature into each clone. The genetic signature would serve as something analogous to a serial number so that all clones would be genetically unique. The DNA sequence that would contain the signature could be placed in a part of the geneome that is not used for any purpose. However, that would not solve the visual identification problem that the Chaelian-Shaelian murder scenario illustrates above.

The ability to easily identify each person uniquely in a large number of settings is an essential element in efforts to maintain law and order in any human society. One problem posed by cloning is that it can make that task much harder to perform and to reduce the frequency with which it can be done correctly. This will inevitably provide incentive for abuse by those with nefarious intentions.

For an unserious look at the Raelian cloning controversy see my StoryPundit post on Raelian cloning, the Ferengi, and the purpose of Star Trek.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 January 05 04:37 PM  Biotech Society

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