Valdosta Daily Times

What We Think

June 3, 2013

Testing, a brave, new world

-- — In a landmark decision Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police can take DNA samples from those under arrest, but not convicted of a crime. The Court stated that DNA is the modern-day equivalent of fingerprinting and taking mug shots, and is not a violation of personal privacy.

The 5-4 decision allows law enforcement agencies to swab the inside cheek of a suspect to obtain a DNA sample. The sample will ostensibly be used to compare to databases of other crimes as well as to begin the process of building a database for DNA, similar to the national fingerprint or mug shot databases.

More than half of all states already take DNA samples from those they arrest, and testing now takes around 2 to 3 weeks, but instant DNA testing is under development. The Court’s ruling now makes it legal for any law enforcement agency to collect DNA samples, although many states have restricted the practice to certain violent crimes.

Given the state of the state’s crime labs, however, and understanding that Georgia is not alone in the minimal resources allocated to crime labs, is this a helpful tool or just another burden placed on local law enforcement? The state’s crime lab is the only one capable of running DNA tests at this time, and as we’ve seen with the recent Kendrick Johnson case, held up the autopsy results for months. If every single person arrested is swabbed and requires a DNA test, how much worse is that backlog going to become?

In theory, this may seem innocuous and innocent. It’s only to help police solve crimes, right? But DNA contains far more information about an individual than simply their identity, which is all a mugshot or fingerprint can convey. A DNA sample can reveal not just who you are, but your entire genetic makeup, potential or existence of disease, your ancestry, your progeny, and much more.

The U.S. Supreme Court stated Monday that DNA testing is not a violation of personal privacy for a suspected criminal. But how much more personal does it get than the government having access to your genetic code?

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