Ok Folks…is it really worth it to get $60 for your precious DNA and blood submitted to a Big Brother Establishment? Really? Have we really forgotten what is ours to cherish?-A.M.
Something strange happened on the roads in Alabama this past weekend: authorities set up roadblocks at several locations and asked drivers to give blood and DNA samples. It turns out, though, that it wasn’t quite as Big Brother-ish as it sounded. Instead, it was an anonymous, paid, volunteer gig, and people could refuse to participate.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation (“PIRE”) was collecting blood and DNA samples from people in St. Clair and Bibb, which are two Alabama counties. PIRE got law enforcement help from sheriffs in this effort because it was conducting a study on behalf of the National Highway Safety Administration. The Alabama Department of Economic and Community affairs specifically tagged St. Clair for the study this year because it had participated in a similar study in 2007.
According to Lt. Freddie Turrentine, of the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, the stated purpose behind the study is to find out if people are driving with alcohol or drugs in their system. “They want to find out of all the people surveyed, how many people were driving with alcohol in their system, or prescription drugs, things like that.”
If that was indeed the study’s purpose, the blood draw makes sense and, in fact, the 2007 study relied upon blood draws and breathalyzers. There’s no explanation, though, for DNA tests, which have nothing to do with the presence of drugs or alcohol in someone’s system.
The way it worked was that, at every roadblock, once a car was stopped, PIRE employees would ask for volunteers. PIRE told the drivers that they would receive $10 for a DNA swab and $50 for a blood test. If the drivers refused, they were sent on their way. Once PIRE had enough volunteers at a given location, the roadblock would be shut down. Then, the participants handed their blood and cheek cells, with the promise that the collection would be anonymous, took their money, and went on their way.
“It was completely voluntary,” Lt. Turrentine said. “If they didn’t want to take part, they could drive off.” Indeed, while many people didn’t like the idea, a lot were enthusiastic, because they saw this as an easy way to make a few bucks. “We would have a lot who didn’t want to take part, especially at night,” Turrentine said. “But then we’d have a few that when we’d tell they could make $60 bucks, they said, ‘What do I need to do?’”
The only thing that made this study different from the one that took place in 2007, says Turrentine, is the rise of social media. Before, those who were stopped either said “yes” or “no”, and then they went on their way. This time around, though, they posted about it on Twitter and Facebook, with the result that, as Turrentine said, “word of it has just exploded.” (And of course, it seems that this year’s test involved anonymous DNA samples, not just blood draws.)
What do you think? Is this a tempest in a social media teapot or did something wrong happen in St. Clair and Bibb counties this past weekend?
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