Archiver > SOUTH-AFRICA-IMMIGRANTS-BRITISH > 2008-03 > 1205729907

From: Delia Robertson <>
Subject: Re: [ZA-IB] PIKE DNA unites distant relatives South Africa, US, UK
Date: Mon, 17 Mar 2008 06:58:27 +0200
References: <><47DA2672.000001.03304@YOUR-K3MDHRO5PZ> <><005001c886c4$e8b72d90$0201a8c0@emjayxp>
In-Reply-To: <005001c886c4$e8b72d90$0201a8c0@emjayxp>

Hello Mike,

It would be nice if everything was about genealogy, and every
genealogist was a fine, upstanding person, wouldn't it? Bit boring, but

Power corrupts . . . knowledge is power.

You don't have to go back in history to find how corrupt or oppressive,
and even governments that hold themselves up as the bastions of
democracy, abuse information about individuals, there are many examples
of governments currently in power who do just that. You don't even have
to leave this country and need only step back about two decades . . .
think about how the apartheid government used private information (among
other things) to oppress certain individuals and groups in this
country. Abuse of power is one fundamental reason why our constitution,
and others, protect the right to privacy.

These days we do have an excellent constitution and the institutions to
uphold it such as the constitutional court that are generally doing a
good job. But this government has on at least two occasions, without
due process, handed over individuals to foreign governments (US &
Pakistan) in violation of the constitution. It is not for governments,
or the police, or the intelligence services to decide matters of
justice, but the courts. We have also seen elements of the police and
intelligence services in this country used illegally for political

It is in the nature of governments that sooner or later they will abuse
their power . . . and that is why citizens need constitutions, and the
institutions to uphold them. Inevitably citizens have to resort to
those institutions and those constitutions to protect their rights.

But beyond the abuse of governments, personal information can also be a
weapon in the hands of criminals or individuals with an axe to grind and
intent on doing someone harm. Identify theft is one of the fastest
growing crimes globally. I spent over two years dealing almost every
week with the fallout of the theft of my ID document and other personal
papers in about 1988 - and occasionally things still crop up. Believe
me it is no laughing matter . . . Also, think about all the single
women in this country who suddenly discovered that they were married.
You would not believe how difficult it is to unravel something like that.

We just don't know how far the use of DNA is going to go . . . in
reality we are just witnessing the baby steps of an immensely powerful
technology and as yet we have no idea how easy it will become to use,
and abuse, it. That is one of the reasons why projects such as
Genographic go to such lengths to protect the identity of those whose
DNA they collect, even from the scientists themselves.

There is a small, but growing number of genealogists (you are not among
those I refer to) who ignore the rights of their research subjects and
the principles of ethical research. They are quite happy to tell the
world that living people do not have the right to privacy from
genealogists; they insult and berate on public forums similar to this
list, those relatives who do not wish to participate in their research;
they state publicly that they lift data and photographs from sites on
the internet without permission or acknowledgment.

So what, you might ask - what harm can this do? Its just genealogy.
I'll give you two examples I know about.

One is that of a young woman, born out of wedlock, and adopted but
never told she was adopted or the truth of her birth, joined some
genealogy lists to research what she thought was her biological family.
In the meantime her biological mother, an only child, had died
tragically without producing any further offspring, and her biological
grandmother was very ill and probably dying - and became desperate to
meet her long lost granddaughter and sole descendant. The grandmother's
well-intentioned niece began a mission to help her. She had partial
names of the adoptive parents and began broadcasting all the information
she had on genealogy lists across the world. And that is how the young
woman learned the truth. You might argue that the adoptive parents
should have told her the truth and I agree that would be the ideal. But
it is not for us to decide for them.

The second example is worse. A genealogist published on the internet
and on some lists the fact that a distant relative was a convicted
paedophile who had also abused his own children. The mother and
children had moved country to try and put the past behind them and make
a fresh start. The result, at school one day one of the children was
suddenly taunted by a classmate about what the father had done to her.
It was a devastating blow to the family.

My grandmother often said to me that the road to hell was paved with
good intentions. I only truly understood much later the lesson she was
trying to teach me was not religious at all, it was a life skill: I
needed to think beyond the immediate action to the potential
consequences of that action for myself and others.

Being well-intentioned genealogists confers on us no special rights, nor
does it absolve us of the responsibility to respect our research
subjects, their wishes and to always act ethically. Just because an
individual passes on their ID number without thinking, does not mean we
have the right to do the same with it. Its like the global
environmental crisis - we can all say I am just one person, I can't make
a difference to such a huge problem. But if each of us reduces our
carbon footprint by just 10 percent, the global impact is enormous.

Sorry about the long post . . . she says climbing down off her soapbox. :))

Kind regards
Delia Robertson

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