The powerful hand of the government just gained even more muscle due to the recent ruling of the Supreme Court in Maryland v. King. The court has likened DNA to fingerprinting and photographing, and deemed it legal to obtain from a suspect without a warrant.
I’m no Supreme Court justice, but I am highly skeptical of the majority’s analogy. My worry is rooted in the fact that DNA is more similar to a personal home – which cannot be searched without warrant – than it is to a photograph or a fingerprint.
The official holding of the court states, “When officers make an arrest supported by probable cause to hold for a serious offense and bring the suspect to the station to be detained in custody, taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment.”
Like the faithful advocate for liberty that he is, Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) chimed in to denounce SCOTUS’s majority ruling. “Accumulating DNA from arrestees — without warrant or probable cause to seize the DNA — is not designed to solve the crime for which the person has (rightly or wrongly) been arrested. Rather, it’s to test the DNA against a national database to potentially implicate them in other unsolved crimes. But the Constitution requires particularized suspicion of a specific crime; indeed, the Fourth Amendment was adopted to prohibit the British practice of ‘general warrants’ targeting individuals absent specific evidence of wrongdoing.”
Now, the police can look into the very fabrics of your body. On the bright side, maybe the lab techs who process the DNA can give suspects a solid life expectancy estimate based on the DNA.
From a layman’s perspective, I do not seem to understand why fingerprinting and photographing is similar to DNA collection. Photographs and fingerprints do not necessarily provide the viewer with extensive insight into your body. DNA has been shown to contain a wealth of information about a person. A warrant is required to search a bank account or home. Why is DNA not analogous to these things?
It appears to me as if DNA is personal, just like the things within your home. The government should not, without warrant, be allowed to enter your home or anything that is within your personal realm. I believe that this should also include computer or digital assets as well. The public has been nothing but outraged about SOPA/PIPA, so why is DNA any different?
The first sub-point to the court's holding explains, “DNA testing may ‘significantly improve both the criminal justice system and police investigative practices.’” That line of reasoning can be used to justify almost any invasive police measure, and it is a very slippery slope. Police investigative practices could easily be furthered and they could dramatically improve the rate of solving cases if we just throw out the Fourth Amendment entirely. I think that many are failing to recall that we are “innocent until proven guilty” and not solely interested in solving crimes by violating rights.
In the court’s defense, the ruling does specify that DNA may not be entered into a database unless the suspect is convicted. Regardless, I think the issue at hand is more that a database could be inadvertently created or IRS-like scandals could appear within law enforcement in which police could abuse their power given the tempting easy access to DNA gathering.
Fourth Amendment rights are now severely limited, along with the First, the Second, and the Fifth (for the sake of brevity, I will not address the others). The Bill of Rights has yet again been trampled upon in light of technological advancements.
I’m honestly getting tired of giving countless contemporary examples in support of reasonable libertarian skepticism of government. The current political climate is just making it too darn easy.
I ask, yet again, how many rights are we willing to sacrifice or severely limit in the pursuit of safety?
Read the full opinion here.
Here are the Justices who voted in favor of allowing DNA samples to go unprotected by the fourth amendment.