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With the recent outcry over phone and email surveillance, Americans concerned with privacy issues have become increasingly worried. They see “Big Brother,” ie: the federal government, as watching us closely to make sure we behave ourselves and do not engage in activities that could be damaging
to the government. On top of this is the issue of the IRS scrutiny of Tea Party and conservative organizations requesting 501(c)4 status to become tax exempt, which politicians on the left and right have decried as outrageous. Yet even more invasive than these other moves by the government is the attempt to obtain DNA samples from criminal suspects who have not been convicted of criminal charges. Can you imagine what the government could do with this information?

Quite frankly, I can’t imagine how the government could misuse DNA samples and see this brou-ha-ha as a tempest in a teapot. In fact, I believe the DNA database should be expanded to include every inhabitant of the United States, and that there should be a fingerprint databank as well for
everyone. The potential for abuse of this data is far outweighed by the possible benefits to society, particularly in solving and preventing crimes, and potential help in blocking terrorist activity.

Libertarians on both the left and the right are the ones fighting most vigorously against a DNA databank, seeing it as an invasion of privacy and because of concerns that this information could be misused by the government. Yet the vast majority of Americans have already surrendered their
privacy to technological intrusions. Indeed, our digital fingerprints are already available to both private and public entities and relatively easily obtainable. By that, I mean we can be tracked through our electronic appliances such as cell phones and tablets to provide our locations to those who are interested. There is also the data we willingly divulge about ourselves on Facebook, Linkedin, and other sites accessible to the public. And EasyPass and similar mechanisms record where we have gone, credit cards what we have spent and where we have spent it, and on what.

If rapists, murderers, and other violent criminals can be apprehended and convicted, and prevented from further crimes through a DNA and fingerprint database, a minor invasion of privacy seems a small price to pay. The question that must be answered is whether this contravenes the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination that has been in place since the Constitution was ratified. The program might also be questioned on the basis of the Fourth Amendment right of people to be secure in their persons against unreasonable searches and seizures (invasion of privacy).

The Fifth Amendment was originally written in the Constitution to protect against torture and physical pain to obtain criminal convictions and did not even consider the possibility of a person’s DNA as evidence. The way the wording was constructed in the amendment could be interpreted as allowing DNA or disallowing it, depending whether the court interpreted it literally or more broadly. After protecting against double jeopardy the Fifth Amendment states- nor shall (any person) be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself. Use of the term witness suggests being compelled to testify against himself and does not necessarily exclude physical evidence from a person being utilized. In fact, if this amendment were interpreted broadly, a person’s fingerprints couldn’t be used against him in a criminal case, and fingerprints have been accepted as evidence in criminal cases for well over a hundred years. DNA and fingerprints are really no different in the use of a person’s physical characteristics to identify and convict him or her of a crime.

Science has made huge strides since the Constitution was written. Pursuit of criminals and terrorists should not be constrained by interpretation of this document in ways that limit these scientific advances from being employed by the criminal justice system. DNA and fingerprint
databanks should be expanded maximally and used as necessary. Non-criminals need not worry that this information will come back to haunt them in the future unless the nation’s laws are dramatically transformed, an unlikely scenario.

Resurrecting Democracy


Leave a replyComments (4)
  1. DR. CLARISSA PINKOLA ESTÉS, Managing Editor of TMV, and Columnist June 12, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Thanks Mr. Levine. I learned alot from reading this.

    Just a .02: with a dna databank, amongst other things, when one’s blood might indicate small instead of large proportions or lack of claimed heritage altogether, there can be consequences to hiring [see ward churchill claims] for certain positions as in ethnic studies departments [dont shoot the messenger],

    as well as shut off of federal payments in large amounts over a lifetime if proven, by science some day, that a tribal member of a registered tribe, is not qualified by dna re bloodline/heritage proportion.

    The native tribe called by some ‘the Pima’ have been contributing blood and dna to try to help the huge upswing in certain diseases amongst tribal members, and have been criticized for doing so by other native groups [in part because it is thought, amongst other concerns, to potentially put at risk the billions of yearly taxpayer dollars paid to various native tribal groups across the US… that the gov’t will do anything to double cross most anyone, et al.

    There is a social concern also: Because many persons take great pride in their assumed heritage being ‘pure’,[ have seen claims for many reasons of both inclusion and exclusion and know-nothing innocently, as well as in full blown prejudice and bigotry…. in those who abjectly deny having jewish heritage, in those claiming to be ‘pure’ caucasian, native, black, you name it] dna showing otherwise, could be quite a wakeup call for some…. and thereby, ouster from groups by those who believe still in ‘the purity’ principle, could potentially occur.

    DNA, like ‘race’ could turn into an entire classist, punitive, marginalizing issue, not even mentioning insurance companies re health, e.g., you have mediterranean dna/blood [say, Caucasian],and some japanese dna trace [ say, Asian,] and some Northern Africa dna / heritage/bloodline [say Negro], therefore, risk of s. cell anemia, and also x, y, and z illnesses. You know how they do what they do to all of us by playing on ‘potential illness’ already. Not good in many cases.

    Not sure it’s the DNA exactly nor the totting of it, rather what some people would do with the outcomes, that is most at issue.

  2. DNA profiles will not be given to corporations, insurance companies or individuals- they will used to solve or prevent crimes- we’ll only be in trouble if the laws are changed to allow wide dissemination.

  3. rudi June 13, 2013 at 6:26 am

    Fingerprints are also taken at the time of arrest, whether innocent or guilty. Corporation can use fingerprints to do. Corporations submit your fingerprints to government agencies for a background check.

  4. Barky June 13, 2013 at 10:21 am

    I absolutely refute this:

    In fact, I believe the DNA database should be expanded to include every inhabitant of the United States, and that there should be a fingerprint databank as well for everyone.

    The notion that our government has a “right” to make ANY database on it’s citizenry is just repulsive. The only thing authorized in the Constitution is the census, but of course law after law has basically established huge databases of its citizens for one reason or another. It’s grown to ludicrous proportions as it is, but to have full fingerprints and DNA (and now electronic :cough: “metadata”) is just bullsh*t and would cross the line. WAY cross the line. We’re talking just erase the ruddy thing and call it a day.

    People want to keep chipping away at our civil rights out of fear. Ben Franklin was right.