The US Supreme Court ruled today on the case of Maryland v. King, deciding with a 5-4 majority to uphold the Maryland state law that considers a DNA test--in this case a cheek swab--to be a legal search. That DNA will be entered into a database to be matched with existing samples.
The concept of a legal search is one of the toughest concepts in law to get your head around; it extends to much more than a search of your home or car or school locker. Your body, legally speaking, counts as your property, and you are entitled to legal protection against the violation of its bounds--which can be manifested as what we think of as privacy. That could mean what you say in the privacy of your own home, which is why wiretapping is illegal, or it could mean the right to not submit to questioning unless there is probably cause.
The case in question involved one Alonzo King, Jr., who was arrested in 2009 on an assault charge. He was fingerprinted and a DNA test was administered--but the DNA result linked him to an unsolved rape from 2003. King was sentenced to life in prison on charges from the 2003 rape, but appealed all the way to the Supreme Court on the grounds that the DNA test constituted an illegal search, violating the Fourth Amendment.
The Supreme Court decision was heated. Justice Antonin Scalia, who normally sides with the conservative bloc on the Court, instead sided with the liberal bloc, and Justice Stephen Breyer did the reverse. Scalia felt so strongly that the DNA test was an illegal search, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, that he read his dissent from the bench, something only done when the author is particularly outraged.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, writing for the majority, calls the DNA test "a legitimate police booking procedure." And the Court also noted that the DNA test is fairly non-invasive, that it involves no surgery. And that's true! But it's important to analyze why things like fingerprinting or photographing are police booking procedure: it's exclusively for identification. DNA tests are worthless for identification; they are only used to match one sample against another. That makes them valuable for solving older cases, but entirely unnecessary as a standard booking procedure. As a matter of protocol, DNA results are entered into a database, and automatically checked against it for matches, which is what happened in the King case.
The other issue for the future is who, exactly, can now legally be DNA-tested. The answer? Anyone who has been arrested for any reason, valid or not. A racist cop who pulls over a guy driving a car in Arizona because he looks Latino? That guy can now have his DNA taken and booked on file, even when he's released in an hour with no charges filed.
From the dissent of Justice Scalia (who, it should be noted, has been a fiercely aggressive justice on the subject of privacy as of late): "Today's judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes. Then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane." Of course, not everyone agrees.
Read more over at MSNBC.
"It's Now Legal For The Police To Collect DNA As Part Of Any Arrest".
How fascinating that PoPSCi would use a picture of our USN Personnel to make the above point, bizarre kind way assassinating, but fascinating.
Maybe this is PoPSCI idea to solute those in uniform.
How are fingerprints any different then DNA in regards to the points you bring up about identification? Fingerprints are for identification purposes, but they have to be compared to other known fingerprints. Those other known fingerprints come from prior arrests (along with other sources, though prior arrests make up the majority). If someones fingerprints from an arrest match a fingerprint from a homicide that person would have the same outcome as King (pending a guilty verdict at trial). The major difference for identification purposes is that the pool of DNA identities is far smaller then the pool for fingerprint identities. Though at one point the pool for fingerprint identities was very small as well. If DNA is a valid means for identification then why should it be excluded as a means to identify for law enforcement. If retina scans, voice scans, facial recognition, or other means of identification become a valid means for identification in the future why should law enforcement not be able to gather that information as well. And your comments about a racist cop in Arizona...well I am sure some stereotypical or prejudicial statements can be made about journalists/bloggers as well. Just food for thought...
DNA contains too much information for me to be willing to let the government have. With dna evidence they will be able to know your heritage, your risk of cancer and other disease, with enough data they could tell if your parents were faithful and using epigenetic markers they could even tell how well fed your grandparents where. The amount of information about you will only increase as time goes on. This information will be abused in every possible way.
I'm all for using DNA to catch rapists, and honestly I can't believe that this guy made it all the way to the supreme court with "the damming evidence was a violation of my privacy". Best case scenario is you go to jail for rape ANYWAYS.
That said I actually agree with the dissent on this one. To bounce off PopSci's immature reference to Arizona's immigration law, taking a swab of DNA from said Latino suspect qualifies as an unreasonable search and until that person is convicted of a crime they have the right to deny that search.
@jmonline They aren't. In fact both can be retrieved from a crime scene. The difference is that getting your DNA from the blood you left lying at a crime scene is not an unreasonable search. Sticking a swab in your mouth against your will is.
I feel someone should also mention, what with the most recent scandal involving the IRS, a citizen's concern about the government's ill use of any kind of personal information is not unfounded.
Taking my fingerprints without my consent would be the same as taking my DNA without my consent. It is not an unreasonable search subsequent to arrest. Taking a sterile cottonswab and swabbing the inside of your mouth is no more invasive then someone grabbing each finger and forcing you to give a fingerprint.
I will agree though, especially in light of the IRS scandal, that DNA does contain more information about your identity then fingerprints and citizens do have a right to be concerned about how that DNA will be used.
One thing to remember though is the ruling is in regards to those being arrested. You give up certain freedoms when probable cause exists for an arrest. In the state of Illinois only certain offenses require fingerprints, though if arrested you can be fingerprinted for identification purposes. Perhaps some laws need to be in place to determine when such arrests would allow for DNA identification.
jmonline, I tend to agree with you on grounds of identity security.
Personally, I don't care about it for myself as my blood has been drawn many times over the years and I've seen this whole 'DNA test the 99%' thing coming. Ancestry and other sites that create genealogy databases close their previously open access when they no longer have need of the public to flesh out their genetic tracking of the masses. That has begun. Our facial, optical, vocal, and DNA features are now beginning to be collected. And just as with most of what ends up in computers, it will indeed be more bad than good to the common person-other than the inevitable medical advances to come, most of which few will be able to afford.
Basically, just like now, until the custom diseases come online. 3-D printing will be a real problem all the way around going forward. A disease that only 1 person could get. Or all of a bloodline. Or anything in between. Or everybody.
Hey you judges! Anyone in your family likely to get in trouble? Any of them ever BEEN in trouble? They'll know soon.
I see the pile of Immunity-that was only a half million or so deep-now becoming something of such magnitude that it will separate a major segment of America.
Now the police and the government have a vested interest in building this DNA database and they will use illegal & invalid arrests to do so.
I didn't read anymore than the headline. I came for the paranoia :)
You guys do realize they are comparing markers, not sequencing your genome... Why would you sequence a bunch of garbage DNA from suspected criminals anyway? Hey guys, I have the genomes for 150 drug dealers! lol
Perhaps the interpretation of being asigned a number from the beast, just means we each are indentified by our unique DNA code.
Maybe revelations is coming true NOW?!
@jmonline I would argue that taking something from the inside of your person is slightly more invasive than taking something from the outside. Yes, police can already take your fingerprint and your ID/DR so what use is a swab of DNA for booking? Such data would only be of use to the police in a criminal investigation, and in this case I think it was used legitimately to do just that. That said, there is no other legitimate reason for a police officer to take such extremely personal information, and it is extremely personal - far more personal than a fingerprint, which I dare say it is a moot comparison.