Supreme Court DNA Ruling Has Scary Echoes of Gattaca

Decision opens path to swabbing without suspicion: Noah Feldman
By Matt Cantor,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 4, 2013 11:58 AM CDT
Supreme Court DNA Ruling Has Scary Echoes of Gattaca
In this April 14, 2011 file photo, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington.   (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

In a 5-4 decision yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled that those arrested for "serious crimes" can have DNA samples taken from their cheeks—even without suspicion. And that "represents a major step toward a Gattaca world," writes Noah Feldman at Bloomberg. In short, evidence can now be taken without suspicion, "avoiding the pesky requirement of a warrant that the Founding Fathers thought would give us liberty and privacy." According to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, cheek-swabbing isn't much more invasive than fingerprinting.

But fingerprints are very different from DNA, Feldman notes: "If the government has my fingerprints, it’s like they have my randomly assigned Social Security number. If it has my DNA, it’s like they have the entire operating system." Taking DNA amounts to searching an arrestee, argued a dissenting Antonin Scalia; in this case, petitioner Alonzo Jay King Jr.'s DNA was used as evidence of rape. Fingerprints are rarely used as evidence—instead, they're mostly for "bureaucratic identification." With DNA, it seems unlikely that identification and crime-solving purposes can ever "be fully separated in the real world." The case "posed a choice between technological state power and Luddite liberty. Liberty lost," writes Feldman. Click for his full column. (More US Supreme Court stories.)

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