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SCOTUS Says DNA Collection Permissible After Arrest 643

schwit1 writes in with news about a ruling on the legality of the police collecting your DNA after an arrest. "A sharply divided Supreme Court on Monday said police can routinely take DNA from people they arrest, equating a DNA cheek swab to other common jailhouse procedures like fingerprinting. 'Taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure that is reasonable under the Fourth Amendment,' Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the court's five-justice majority. But the four dissenting justices said that the court was allowing a major change in police powers. 'Make no mistake about it: because of today's decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason,' conservative Justice Antonin Scalia said in a sharp dissent which he read aloud in the courtroom. Details of ruling available here.
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SCOTUS Says DNA Collection Permissible After Arrest

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 03, 2013 @11:51AM (#43896501)

    Then I was shocked to see Scalia was in the dissenting group.

  • UK Leads here (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Alain Williams ( 2972 ) <> on Monday June 03, 2013 @11:54AM (#43896549) Homepage

    For once the UK leads the USA in the long, slow slide to a police state. They take them from kids a lot []

  • by AuMatar ( 183847 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @11:56AM (#43896591)

    Interesting breakdown. Scalia joined 3 of the 4 liberals (Ginsberg, Sotomayer, and Kagan. Breyer broke with the liberals and voted in favor of the opinion. It also means a rare moment where Thomas didn't vote in lockstep with Scalia.

  • by Samantha Wright ( 1324923 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:12PM (#43896851) Homepage Journal
    Unless something's changed in the past year, forensics does not retain medically-sensitive genetic information. They pick up on random, fast-changing mutations called SNPs which are specifically chosen so that they don't reveal medical information. There was a kerfuffle when it was discovered that one of them might be linked to schizophrenia. The data retention policies are stupidly thuggish, like every other component of US law enforcement, but your medical insurance is not in danger.
  • by CanHasDIY ( 1672858 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:18PM (#43896911) Homepage Journal

    A cheek swap does not equate to GATTACA.


    But you have to admit, it had to start somewhere, didn't it?

  • by sargon666777 ( 555498 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:18PM (#43896917) Homepage
    I disagree with the likening of DNA to having a mug shot taken or a fingerprint.. Simply because DNA can be used for purposes well beyond what you can use for a mug shot or a fingerprint.. Consider for a moment this currently fictional example... We have a nationalized health care system. Using the same DNA collected we tax an individual based on the likeliness of that individual to contract a certain condition (e.g. diabetes).. -or- We use that same DNA to establish life insurance rates along the same logic.. The problem here is it allows a very large amount of information to be garnered about a persons potential medical conditions without their consent.
  • by twimmel ( 412376 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:28PM (#43897053)

    For identification purposes law enforcement labs only analyze at a dozen or so short segments of the DNA. That's why they can do the test so quickly. For example it was technically possible that Bin Laden could have been positively id'd within hours of his capture. Short tandem repeats give very little data, and not enough to characterizes anyone's medical condition. As the ruling says, "Those loci came from noncoding DNA parts that do not reveal an arrestee’s genetic traits and are unlikely to reveal any private medical information."

  • medical? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by iggymanz ( 596061 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:42PM (#43897253)

    think more broadly. studies may show a person with certain sequences might be more likely to commit certain crimes. We need to keep extra surveillance on such people for safety's sake.

    And maybe you shouldn't reproduce, citizen, given your suspicious DNA sequences.

  • by LoyalOpposition ( 168041 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:46PM (#43897317)

    It also means a rare moment where Thomas didn't vote in lockstep with Scalia.

    For the October 2010 to June 2011 term the Justices most often agreeing in whole or part were Roberts and Alito at 96%. In second place were Sotomayor and Kagan at 94%. In third and fourth place were Scalia and Roberts, and Kennedy and Roberts at 90%. In fifth and sixth place were Roberts and Thomas, and Thomas and Alito at 89%. In seventh place was Kennedy and Alito at 88%. In eighth and ninth places were Breyer and Sotomayor, and Breyer and Kagan at 87%. In tenth, eleventh and twelfth places were Scalia and Thomas, Scalia and Alito, and Kennedy and Thomas.

    So, if voting in lockstep like Thomas and Scalia is bad at 86%, what is it when Sotomayor and Kagan vote together 94% of the time? Is that also lockstep?


  • Misunderstanding (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Antony T Curtis ( 89990 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:49PM (#43897373) Homepage Journal

    This is only potentially bad because of the way how people have now completely misunderstood the purpose of DNA fingerprinting.

    DNA Fingerprinting was originally conceived to exclude suspects and was never intended to prove that a suspect was present.
    (let that sink in for a bit)

    (a bit longer)

    This is why DNA fingerprinting is usually combined with probabilities with regard to how many other people share the similar DNA fingerprint match.
    A DNA fingerprint match should not be considered proof of anyone's guilt. It only means that the suspect cannot be excluded.

    However, in America, it seems that DNA fingerprint match is seen as proof of guilt instead of how it should be used where a fingerprint mismatch is proof of innocence. Far too often, I have heard of cases where the prosecution excludes DNA fingerprint evidence because it doesn't show a match ... which is an abuse and misrepresentation of the technology.


    (I'm sure that many people will read what I had written and still completely fail to understand the difference)

  • Re:Facebookification (Score:5, Interesting)

    by ebno-10db ( 1459097 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:51PM (#43897385)

    The problem here isn't so much with the collection of DNA, but the retention.

    Agreed, but note how that isn't addressed by the court, the press or the laws. As noted by posters above, even fingerprints are not usually deleted even if charges are dropped because a school bus full on nuns says "we saw the whole thing and he didn't do it". The best approach would be not only to delete the info for anyone who has charges dropped or is acquitted, but to change who analyzes the DNA. Because there have been cases of incompetent or corrupt police crime labs ("we know he's guilty so just say it matches"), the Innocence Project has suggested that DNA matching be done by N independent and accredited labs, with which lab a sample is sent to chosen at random. The samples should also be submitted and tracked in such a way that it doesn't indicate who or where the sample is from. Lastly, the labs should undergo random checks by having already known samples sent to them in exactly the same way as "real" samples are.

  • Re:Should be noted (Score:5, Interesting)

    by njnnja ( 2833511 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @12:58PM (#43897511)

    Digging through the Supreme Court Database [], this happened exactly once before (Scalia, Kagan, Sotomayor, and Ginsberg all agreeing in dissent). It happened in Williams v. Illinois [], which was interestingly also a DNA testing case. The question at the time was "Whether a state rule of evidence allowing an expert witness to testify about the results of DNA testing performed by non-testifying analysts, where the defendant has no opportunity to confront the actual analysts, violates the Confrontation Clause." The majority held that it did not violate the confrontation clause, with these four justices in dissent.

  • by the eric conspiracy ( 20178 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @01:03PM (#43897569)

    ALL of the conservative Supreme Court judges voted for this, and all of the liberal judges voted against this.

    To try to frame this as part of a typical liberal agenda is distortive at BEST.

  • by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @01:14PM (#43897687) Homepage

    I have a different sort of idea about that:
    1. Almost all people with no power, don't want a police state, dictatorship, etc because they know it will oppress them.

    2. Almost all people with power would rather like a police state or dictatorship, because that allows them to keep their power.

    3. Those people without power who have chosen to identify with or support a subgroup of those people with power have to square their opposition to police states with their decision to support their chosen subgroup. That leads to the "My party isn't oppressing me, the other party is oppressing me!" thinking from self-identified partisans.

    The real blindness is this, which came out in a conversation between myself (borderline socialist), a moderately liberal friend, and a libertarian friend: Which person in your life is most likely to be oppressing you in some way? Answer: Your boss.

  • by conspirator23 ( 207097 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @01:34PM (#43897907)

    I'm really amused by all the ideological civil libertarians who are shocked (SHOCKED I tell you!) at finding common cause with Scalia on this issue. The general assumption seems to be that Scalia "is finally right for once." Here's an alternative explanation: Scalia hasn't changed at all. It's the ideologically motivated civil libertarians who are off their rockers here.

    If you'll tie your jerking knee down for a minute and whip up a Top 20 list of the most pernicious and chilling abuses of government authority, I suspect you'll have a hard time finding a spot for this line item. The risk/benefit equation on this is different. Managing this data in an appropriate and accountable fashion is officially Not Rocket Science. You may not trust the government to behave in a reasonable and appropriate manner, but there's all kinds of stuff you accept silently right now which is already egregious. Letting that stuff slide (Guantanomo, CIA-run drone strikes against civilian targets, National Security Letters, good old fashioned "driving while black", take your pick) while getting your panties in a bunch over soemthing with tangible benefits to a civil society is not much more than masturbatory paranoia.

    Or maybe I should put it this way: When extremists of different factions agree, it doesn't make them less extreme.

  • Re:GATTACA (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Hatta ( 162192 ) on Monday June 03, 2013 @06:02PM (#43900335) Journal

    The *dictionary* definitions of the terms (legal or otherwise) are totally irrelevant.

    Whoever told you that is one of the liars to whom I referred. These are the games lawyers play to screw the rest of us. Just use a different name for the same thing and you don't have to apply all the rights we've managed to protect.

    For example, when arrested you get to be advised of your right to a lawyer, your right not to incriminate yourself, etc. If a detention isn't an arrest, you don't get mirandized. And if you're not free to leave, and the officer is questioning you, and you dont know your rights, what do you expect to happen?

    To be on topic, detention is not enough to take a DNA sample (or fingerprints, etc). So I think they pretty damn well proves "detention" and "arrest" are not colloquially or legally the same.

    Not at all. Not everyone who is arrested is booked.

There's no such thing as a free lunch. -- Milton Friendman