When I read that the Supreme Court had decided it’s okay to take DNA swabs from people who are arrested but not yet convicted, I was a bit peeved because it seemed they had chipped away one more bit of our Fourth Amendment rights.
Still, it seemed like a relatively small thing. After all, they already take fingerprints when you’re arrested, and DNA is kind of like a newer, more accurate way of doing what fingerprints do. So while it’s not a good thing, it didn’t seem like a big change from what we’re already doing.
Boy, was I wrong, as PDgirl explains:
Do you see why this is not even remotely the same thing as fingerprinting? The sample wasn’t used to identify him. It wasn’t even processed until months after his arrest. He’d already appeared in court and I’m sure the court confirmed that they had the right person when they arraigned him. The sample was entered into the system under the assumption that it was King’s DNA. It wasn’t ever used to verify that the person they arrested really was King…
So, what was the purpose of collecting King’s DNA? It clearly was not for identification purposes. You know what it was for? Generally collecting evidence. Without reason to believe that the evidence they collected was in any way connected to any crime in the unsolved cases database.
Her whole explanation goes into more detail (including info-graphics!) and is definitely worth reading if you are concerned about this issue.
These sorts of rulings have a way of getting out of hand. This year, the Supreme Court ruled it’s okay to take DNA evidence from people just because they happen to be arrested for serious offenses, because this happened in Maryland, where the law only allows it for serious offenses. But maybe next year some court decides that “serious offenses” is not a critical part of the ruling and they allow police to take DNA swabs from people arrested for having expired licenses.
This could also become a rationale for other evidence gathering. After all, if the court allows police to take something as personal as DNA, then surely the court would not object to a gunshot residue swab, hair and fiber samples, and a quick look through everything on your smartphone, right?
It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. Once the camel’s nose is in the tent, the rest of the camel is likely to follow.