Genetic Privacy for Suspects?

In an upcoming hearing, the US Supreme Court will decide on whether police can take DNA samples from suspects who have not been convicted.

Feb 12, 2013
Dan Cossins

STOCK.XCHANG, SCHULERGDLater this month the US Supreme Court will address the question of whether authorities have the right to take DNA samples from people arrested for serious crimes, Wired reported.

During the hearing, scheduled for February 26, the justices will uphold or reject a 2012 decision by the Maryland Court of Appeals, which ruled that taking DNA without warrants from suspects who have not been convicted is a breach of the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and seizure.

The Obama administration filed in support of the practice, however, stating that “DNA fingerprinting is a minimal incursion of an arrestee’s privacy interests.” The Electronic Privacy Information Center countered that DNA sampling exposes people to unforeseen privacy issues as our knowledge of genetics increases. “Once an individual’s DNA sample is in a government database, protecting that information from future exploitation becomes more difficult,” said the group in a filing.

But the justices have likely already made up their minds. Last July, Chief Justice John Roberts said there was a “fair prospect” that the Supreme Court would reverse the lower court’s decision.

Meanwhile, French police investigating a series of sexual assaults in Marseille have used DNA evidence to arrest identical twins brothers—but they cannot establish which brother committed the crimes, or if they both did, because standard tests cannot differentiate between their DNA. A more sophisticated test would be too expensive.