The US Supreme Court’s ruling upholding Maryland’s law allowing law enforcement to collect DNA upon arrest and prior to conviction fails to protect the privacy of Americans’ DNA and is a serious blow to human rights in the United States.
In Maryland v King the Court has now carved out a dangerous exception to the bedrock principle of fourth amendment jurisprudence in this country that requires police have probable cause to believe that a suspect has committed a crime before a search can take place. Rather than waiting for the criminal justice system to sort out who is guilty and who is not, the Court analogized taking DNA to fingerprinting for identification only and completely ignored the practical reasons that police take DNA from suspects-to investigate unsolved crimes. They further ignored basic science by failing to examine the robust informational content in every person’s DNA to reveal health history among other highly personal information. As Justice Scalia noted in his scathing dissent, the decision's scope is "vast" and "scary," and DNA collection is an unequivocal violation of Americans' Fourth Amendment right to be free from "unreasonable searches and seizures" of their bodies and homes.
Maryland’s DNA Collection Act is representative of a growing trend of state’s across the country massively expanding their collection of DNA. Because only a fraction of those who are arrested are ultimately charged and convicted, however, this practice necessarily will permit the government to collect DNA from innocent people.
That the government would obtain DNA from any innocent person is disturbing, but the practice visits a special and severe harm upon minorities. Members of minority groups are arrested in disproportionate numbers, and a disproportionate percentage of innocent arrestees are therefore likely to be minorities.
As Justice Scalia declared: "Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason."
In looking at the issue of when the government should be allowed to seize, analyze, and stockpile our genetic blueprint, the Supreme Court failed to base their analyses on a clear and complete understanding of the interests involved on both sides, and instead relied on assumptions about DNA databanks and unsupported claims that it is or is not useful for particular purposes. This decision will have a significant impact on the genetic privacy of many Americans; it should have been based on evidence and science, not on speculation and mere assertions.
Council for Responsible Genetics