Your DNA could soon be on file in hundreds of law enforcement databases across the nation and in a national database due to a recent Supreme Court decision allowing the collection of DNA without a warrant.
Last month, the Supreme Court came to a decision over a case known as Maryland v. King , ruling that police have the right to test the DNA of anybody that they arrest without a warrant. The decision comes after the Supreme Court settled a similar case by ruling that corporations cannot patent human DNA — 20% of which Anthony Gucciardi revealed was patented at the time.
The decision involved Alonzo King, a Maryland man who was convicted of rape in 2009. Police identified King as a rape suspect after testing his DNA when he was arrested on an unrelated charge. King’s DNA matched a sample taken from the rape victim six years earlier.
Will You Get Swabbed?
Critics of the decision claim police will start arresting people just to test their DNA with a swab. Another problem is that people are arrested all the time for minor charges and complaints. Would those arrested for offensives such as drunk driving or disturbing the peace get swabbed?
Worse, could there be blanket arrests? Could the police arrest and swab every African-American man in town if a woman says the man who raped her was black? Police have done stranger things in the past.
The decision is troubling because law enforcement agencies all over the country are setting up their own DNA databases. The New York Times reported that Orange County, California, alone has 90,000 profiles in its DNA database. New York City has amassed a database of 11,000 samples. Even some smaller cities like Palm Bay, Florida, are creating databases.
The problem here is that these databases may not be well run or properly administered. Police in Aurora, Colorado, (a Denver suburb) recently admitted that they lost 456 DNA samples, including some from active rape cases. The samples were destroyed because the police department’s property and evidence unit failed to follow protocols.
If local police departments cannot follow protocols, how can the DNA that they store and use be trusted? Samples could be mingled or mislabeled, so a rapist’s DNA could end up with the name of an innocent person on it.
Nationwide DNA Database Coming
Another problem is that the DNA in these databases may not be shared, which would enable criminals to get away. The police in Cleveland might have a rape suspect’s DNA on file, but cops that arrest the same crook for sexual assault in Las Vegas would have no way of accessing it.
One solution to this problem would be a national DNA database, which would present problems of its own. Who would administer such a database, and who would have access to it? Who would decide what DNA would go into it? Would DNA from persons that have served in the military or people tested for public health reasons be placed in the database? Could DNA in the database be used for scientific research?
Obviously, law enforcement purports advantages, such as clearing some wrongly convicted individuals and catching some criminals. Yet there are some problems here. The Supreme Court seems to have opened the door to a brave new world of warrantless DNA testing. It remains to see whether this will be openly seen as a threat to our rights or not.