Your DNA in a Database
By PETER FENN
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One of the first jobs I had in Washington was as a young staffer on the Senate Intelligence Committee – the so-called Church Committee.
This select committee was named after the late Senator Frank Church and was created primarily to investigate intelligence abuses directed at Americans, but also included certain foreign transgressions, such as the use of assassinations, coups and other covert activities.
It led to a permanent committee and put in force important checks and balances on executive power. Critical legislation to protect American citizens from unreasonable search and seizure came out of that committee’s work.
I was worried about privacy thirty years ago – but that was nothing compared to now.
The latest decision by the Supreme Court on the use of DNA scares me. It is a further use of current technology to erode individual rights. I understand the arguments that it can be an effective tool to free the innocent and convict the guilty. I understand that it makes law enforcement’s job easier and more efficient. I understand the argument that “we live in a different word” and that if we compile a national database of fingerprints, why is it not OK to do the same with DNA?
I see those points, but I just don’t buy them. I agree, for once, with Justice Antonin Scalia when he wrote, “your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”
Here is why: for those who worry about the power of government to collect and build personal files on Americans, cataloguing their every key stroke, phone call, email and text message, now here comes even more intrusion.
I rather doubt DNA swabs will be kept to dangerous felons, but rather expanded to those picked up for far more minor offenses. It also may be required or requested by others for jobs, various kinds of licenses, permits, credit applications, you name it.
Americans are giving up their rights at an alarming rate and this is a great deal more important than worrying about the Internal Revenue Service doing its job and looking at political groups. That was clumsy; this is incredible for its long term consequences.
Americans, especially many younger ones, have very little expectation of privacy any more. This Supreme Court ruling will only further undermine our personal liberties. This is not a wise road to head down for a nation built on individual freedom.