Archive for Friday, June 7, 2013

Editiorial: Big Brother

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling on DNA swabs is another indication of our waning right to privacy.

June 7, 2013


In another 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has spoken.

It has said that it’s all right for police to take a DNA swab from anyone they arrest and put the results into the National DNA Index System, where it becomes part of the federal Combined DNA Index System, the FBI program that supports criminal justice DNA databases.

As has been illustrated in recent cases involving Lawrence and area residents, these DNA checks can help to clear people falsely convicted of crimes and bring to belated justice criminals who initially escaped paying for their acts.

Even the dissenting justices agreed. “This will solve some extra crimes, to be sure,” said Justice Antonin Scalia. However, he and the three other justices who joined in the dissent said 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,” Scalia warned.

Although the decision cleared the way for police to take a DNA swab from people arrested for “serious” crimes, Scalia predicted that limit will not last.

The justices who were in the majority reasoned that the swab was not that big of a deal. “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.

Perhaps it is not that big of a deal — at the moment. If it can convict a criminal who has escaped detection, who would argue? Likewise, if it can free an innocent person, isn’t that worthwhile?

The challenge lies in where to draw the line on a growing number of identification techniques. Just because science has discovered a process, does that mean it can be used at every turn? Iris scans of a person’s eyes are being used for security purposes. Facial recognition techniques are growing in sophistication. There’s even a “gait recognition” that can identify individuals by their walks.

Those three latter means of identifying individuals can be imposed by camera monitoring systems, so there’s no need to find yourself arrested in order to be identified, indexed and ultimately tracked.

This U.S. Supreme Court case involving DNA swabs was, on one level, about “reasonable expectations of privacy” and “warrantless, suspicionless searches.” In many ways, privacy and the public lost. Perhaps what the court said, indirectly, is that protection of individual rights no longer can be carried out without “Big Brother” and intrusive technology. Is that something we want to hear?


Ira Rott 4 years, 5 months ago

I don't understand how it is functionally different than taking a fingerprint, it's another method of identification (around for 50+ years) which is probably even less invasive than fingerprinting, at least you don't get gunk all over your fingers.

If the only argument against it is slippery slope leading to a potential future overreach of a non-DNA related collection method than it is a pretty weak argument. Like the "well, if you're going to allow gay marriage then next you'll have to allow polygamy and inter-species marriage" crowd.

Charles L. Bloss, Jr. 4 years, 5 months ago

I agree it is the updated type of identification that fingerprints and book in photos are now. It will give law enforcement another tool to catch criminals with.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

There was an interesting discussion of this issue on the radio the other day, with intelligent comments from both sides.

I tend to side with the anti crowd and feel it's an unreasonable search.

There are substantive differences between fingerprinting and DNA swabs.

pizzapete 4 years, 5 months ago

Some of you will make negative comments and call me all kinds of bad names and attack my intelligence. Now, image what group will cause us fear next? Will we also micro-chip them?

Maddy Griffin 4 years, 5 months ago

Technology marches on. I wasn't that long ago that people thought the same thing about fingerprinting.

lcarol 4 years, 5 months ago

The Patriot Act was passed during the Bush Administration and has been re- approved recently by our Congress. All three branches of our government are aware of this surveillance. It chills me to realize this is the world we live in but the time to be up in arms about this abuse was when Congress was debating it during the past administration. Sir, these are not Obama's people, it is our National Security apparatus and you do nothing but tip your hand to your political preference with the choice of your words. How did you feel when they passed the Patriot Act? Were you blogging about its ramification then? Did you question "Bush's people"? I bet not. The hypocrisy of your thought process only suggests you have not thought about this issue in any other terms but politically. If there is an "R" behind the action, it's OK but a "D" behind the name.....not so much.

jhawkinsf 4 years, 5 months ago

I was just listening to a reporter for Time Magazine being interviewed, (sorry, I didn't catch her name). But she said something interesting and it related to all Presidents. She said that on inauguration day, the new President swears to defend the Constitution. Then they get their first security briefing and are confronted with defending the country. Sometimes, there is a conflict between the two and walking that fine line is something all Presidents have had trouble with.

Those of you in this forum who think they're smarter than all the Presidents combined, and believe the President should stand firm defending the Constitution or defending the country, to the exclusion of the other, well, you're not smarter. It's a real dilemma with no real right or wrong. Obama is just as right as Bush was and Clinton before him.

verity 4 years, 5 months ago

My post appeared in the wrong place. Surely I didn't do anything wrong---

verity 4 years, 5 months ago

Larrynative, it's wrong whoever does it. Your continual accusation that "Obama supporters" won't denounce anything he does has been proven to be wrong so many times.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

I'm uncomfortable with the range and sweep of the monitoring of phone calls that's been done by the NSA, if that's what you're talking about.

Generally speaking, I find that "national security" is often used in ways that aren't consistent with the 4th amendment, and that those in government are much too willing to ignore that fact, regardless of political affiliation.

I think that the Patriot Act is unconstitutional.

Why are you so willing to give up your constitutional rights?

Also, you betray a certain partisan outlook when you call me an "Obama supporter". In my world, Obama was the better of the choices available for president in the last two elections, but that's all. He's imperfect (as all human beings are), a politician, etc.

This problem with national security and government over-reach is a much bigger problem than just a problem with Obama - don't you see that?

Armored_One 4 years, 5 months ago

Took me less than 30 seconds of a Yahoo search to find this website, and there are at least another dozen that come up with the simple search "cell phone scanners".

I love how the bashing of the government continues, regardless of the "head honcho", who is really more of a figurehead and an international spokesman than anything truly interesting. Remember, even if a President vetoes something, Congress can overrule it with a vote. You are worried so much about Obama that you are truly missing the target.

Congress is passing these laws. Not the judicial branch and not the executive branch. If martial law was being declared, by all means hammer the President. Nobody is ever happy with everything that comes out of the judicial branch, so there's that.

Nope, let's slam [fill in the blank with whatever sitting President] because obviously he is the mastermind behind it all. I'm absolutely stunned that a Democratic President has SO much sway over Republican senators and representatives that he gets everything he wants with just the snap of his fingers.

Oh wait...

He doesn't. Never mind.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

Did you read my post?

I don't know how you get an "Obama slam" from it, by any means.

Armored_One 4 years, 5 months ago

Not you, specifically.

You, as in a wide group of people in general with out any specific attention paid to any one individual.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

What an odd idea.

You responded to my post specifically, and completely misinterpreted it. Please don't do that if you're talking about some "wide group of people" that I don't belong to.

pizzapete 4 years, 5 months ago

I'm more worried about our government imprisoning people indefinitely without trail, like all those people being held at Guantanamo. I don't think the government has the time to read all my emails or listen to my phone calls, heck, I don't even have enough time to listen to them all.

verity 4 years, 5 months ago

Unfortunately, you're probably right. Strange that I was just thinking today as I was reading news and commentaries that perhaps it is too late. Very, very sad.

But that doesn't mean we shouldn't go on fighting. Never give up!

verity 4 years, 5 months ago

What happened to the post I was replying to? Why is it gone?

Strange events on this board today. I'm going to go take a nap.

Ron Holzwarth 4 years, 5 months ago

My concern with a national DNA database is how well the information will be safeguarded, and at what time, if any, it becomes public information. For similar information, I believe it is usually 100 years. There are legitimate reasons for total privacy of such information, one is in case someone is hiding from a person that is a danger to them, another is cases where family members no longer wish to have contact with each other, people in witness protection programs might be put in jeopardy, but probably the biggest reason is adoption privacy. Some adopted persons do not want to be contacted by their biological family. Access to a national DNA database would make it very easy to find any biological relative.

The DNA technology available today with only a cheek swab is amazing. Relatives can be found, up to 5th and sometimes even 6th cousins, your likelihood of a genetic disease is no problem (Health insurance companies would love to have that information!), and your ancestry from thousands of years ago can be found. It's even possible to determine what percentage of your biological makeup is from Neanderthals! But that's always an extremely small percentage, if it exists at all in a particular individual. I'm sure that's only a partial list. These two companies specialize in DNA testing of various types. Prepare to be amazed if you read their web sites.

Liberty275 4 years, 5 months ago

DNA is not like a fingerprint. You can't query a database of fingerprints for Jews so you can sew stars on their clothes.

No DNA should be taken without a warrant and the digital representation of that DNA should not be added to any database without a different judge's order.

You people are way too quick to forfeit your rights.

Kate Rogge 4 years, 5 months ago

I agree. We are not cattle in the field.

Kate Rogge 4 years, 5 months ago

I trust Ginsburg, Kagan, and Sotomayor. And who would ever have believed Scalia agreed with them (and me) on any issue protecting individual rights?

Frederic Gutknecht IV 4 years, 5 months ago

The right and left edge of reason are cutting us to the quick.

Armored_One 4 years, 5 months ago

Why is SCOTUS being scapegoated for this issue? Talk about absolute and total hypocrisy. I have read multiple demands for people to be held accountable, but yet her you are, hammering the SCOTUS, instead of organizing recall proceedings against the Congress that passed the law in the first place.

What is being said and done is no better than being angry at your boss, coming home and kicking your dog to death because it had the audacity to be happy you're home and barked a couple of times.

SCOTUS does NOT pass laws. They rule on the constitutionality of a given law. Period. Nothing more and certainly nothing less. But by all means, far be it for me to stand in the way of the lynch mob. I would certainly hate to see such perfectly good torches be wasted. If the roof of your house is collapsing in, you don't go plant a rose garden 5 blocks away. You fix the blasted problem. Partisan politics and career politicians are the issue. You start voting these geniuses out of office, the rest WILL get one of two things.

A clue or a pink slip.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

What an odd idea.

The SC is a vital part of our system, and we all have every right to be unhappy with decisions they make, if we feel they're incorrect and/or damaging in some way.

With 5-4 decisions especially, there's serious disagreement on the court as to constitutionality, which means that there isn't one obvious and correct opinion about that.

verity 4 years, 5 months ago

Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Seems pretty clear to me what this means. Does anybody see anything unclear about it?

In my opinion, taking my DNA without a warrant as described in the 4th amendment falls into the same category as the government tapping into our emails, phone messages, etc. without a warrant.

Liberty275 4 years, 5 months ago

That taking anything from your body without your consent and using it as evidence seems to violate the 5th amendment. If the can't make you talk, why can they make you give them blood?

Armored_One 4 years, 5 months ago

Last I knew, blood donations were, in effect, public domain.

How about organ transplant patients? Don't they have to be registered in a national database?

Both of those options entitles, at least if my interpretation of the paperwork is correct, the information gathered can be sold to a third party, much like your phone number. Perfectly legal way, if I am right, for the government to enact a national database of DNA without a single warrant.

Just in case my grasp of Red Cross paperwork is shoddy,law enforcement can go through your trash because it is public domain, can the same can be done at any given hospital by using the same law?

So you were saying there are no legal loopholes for the government to work through on this issue?

Liberty275 4 years, 5 months ago

"Last I knew, blood donations were, in effect, public domain."

Go see if you can get a bagful and let us know how that works out.

"How about organ transplant patients? Don't they have to be registered in a national database?"

Obviously no. They can opt into database, and I wish them luck getting their organ.

It's apple and oranges anyway. Let's turn it around. What if you were forced to donate your organs at death? The difference between joining a registry and being forced into one is pretty significant. I'm under the impression the law allows them to take DNA by force for inclusion in the all-american citizen-criminal genetics database (AACCGD).

" shoddy,law enforcement can go through your trash"

You can volunteer whatever information you want. Just put it out by the curb and Deputy Garbage Mann will come by and have a look. Do you know what shredders and burn buckets are for? You should destroy anything with personal information before discarding it. Would you allow the government to stop you from shredding 10 year old tax forms before tossing them?

They can look through your trash, but they can only find what you let them.

"So you were saying there are no legal loopholes for the government to work through on this issue?"

I didn't mean to say anything about loopholes. I think taking DNA by force is a violation of the fifth amendment as it is forcing you to testify against yourself. The idea turns on how much information we want stored about ourselves. Knowing everything because you have an exact copy of most basic set of blueprints (DNA) is a lot too much in my opinion.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

The problem is "unreasonable", which is clearly a subjective term, and different people can interpret it differently.

That's how we've gotten here, where we have numerous examples of warrantless searches, numerous court cases about those, and SC decisions about them.

verity 4 years, 5 months ago

I disagree in part, jafs. I see the biggest problem here as being "warrantless." That is absolutely clear and it is not being followed. The "unreasonable" part comes after that and it appears warrants are generally rubber stamped.

If anything, we should err on the side of being conservative when it comes to the erosion of our human and civil rights. Yes, I said it. Just because I have nothing to hide doesn't mean I should put up with some government entity searching my body or other property without cause to be suspicious and those people who say if you have nothing to hide you shouldn't worry cause me a lot of worry. I see taking my DNA and putting it in a database without my permission as a warrantless search.

We are treading on very dangerous ground. If Brownback et al doesn't like my political stance and the fact that I have dissed him under my real name, am I going to come home to a trashed house and my computer confiscated? Will the courts say it's OK?

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

I agree with your sentiment, and that our rights have been eroded.

But, the term "unreasonable" comes first, before warrants, not afterwards. And, it's clearly open to interpretation and disagreement.

Are you saying that all searches should require a warrant? If so, then you're fighting against years of court decisions, both at lower and higher levels, that have allowed numerous examples of warrantless searches found to be reasonable and ok.

The way I read it, warrants require probable cause, etc. and searches can't be "unreasonable", but I'm not sure they intended for all searches to require warrants. Perhaps a historian or legal scholar can help here.

verity 4 years, 5 months ago

Yes, I am saying that all searches should require a warrant. I may be wrong, but that is what I interpret the 4th amendment to say. I realize that in cases of emergency, some exceptions are made, and warrants can be given after the fact, but also evidence gotten illegally is not supposed to be admitted in court.

Let's say my neighbor goes to the police and tells them he thinks I'm dealing drugs because lots of people are coming and going from my house. Do the police have a right to break down my door and trash my house looking for evidence without a warrant? Is it reasonable that a warrant be given merely because my neighbor suspects me?

My opinion is that the answer to both questions is a resounding NO.

I realize there is always a lot of gray areas, but we are giving up too many of our rights because we are supposedly being made safer, but the ways in which we are supposedly safer are too often secret, because it would compromise security for us to know them. I don't trust secrecy for my protection---it's too often used to hide power grabs.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

Again, I generally agree with your sentiment.

But, the exception to requiring warrants that is most convincing to me is "exigent circumstances" - let's say that instead of your neighbor doing what you post, he calls 911 because he hears signs of violence in your home. When the police arrive, they hear you screaming for help. Seems to me that we want them to immediately respond, and break in and help you, rather than calling a judge, getting a warrant, etc.

SC justices are on both sides of this one - some think that any warrantless search is forbidden, and others that unreasonable ones are, but that reasonable warrantless searches are ok.

verity 4 years, 5 months ago

It seems to me the two situations are intrinsically different---the difference being immediate and obvious danger to a person, not a search for evidence that there is no compelling reason to think exists. A fireman is not going to be charged if he breaks into a burning house and rescues the occupants, and, as a private citizen, you probably won't either.

I realize that reasonable people can disagree on what's reasonable. I draw my line at taking my DNA without my permission (although I know it's very easy to get it in other ways) and at trolling my phone calls and emails.

As for what the Supreme Court rules, I disagree with them on a lot of things---corporations being people comes to mind.

jafs 4 years, 5 months ago

Sure. But you said all searches need warrants.

And, my point about the SC justices is that they're split on this one - last case was a 5-4 ruling - so even more educated and knowledgeable folks than you and I have a serious disagreement about this issue.

Armored_One 4 years, 5 months ago

So exactly how is being registered in a national database of DNA an unreasonable search?

All sorts of people have had their fingerprints recorded, including people seeking high end government job and people seeking to be bondable. Those fingerprints are in the same database as people like Manson. How is comparing those fingerprints less unreasonable than comparing DNA, which is infinitely less subject to misinterpretation?

"Oh, well, 'they' could find out who's [fill in the blank]"

Oh, well, they can do that with any number of search options, including, but I hear no calls for it to be shut down. As another option, I suppose 'they' could just access census data, but I guess that would be too simple. Must be a covert, complicated plan. Sorry, I forgot that part.

You are SO grasping at straws, it's not even funny anymore. It's really kind of sad, in a way.

Ever contemplate the good a central DNA database could create? A central location for organ donation is the first thing that comes to mind.

smileydog 4 years, 5 months ago

This is frivolous at this point. When the insurance companies start using this information on all citizens to determine their risk assesments on individuals like Citizen A has an 89% chance of having a heart attack or 61% chance of getting breast cancer so they know how much they'll charge for health insurance is when everyone should worry. All part of the Obama coup underway.

Maddy Griffin 4 years, 5 months ago

Wouldn't that be considered a pre-existing condition? Insurance companies can no longer deny coverage based on that.

verity 4 years, 5 months ago

You are right about the pre-existing condition. However, we have no guarantee that will always be the law. And an employer might not hire you---even though it might be illegal to discriminate. Unless s/he tells you why they didn't hire you (and they would be stupid to do so), you would never know why and couldn't do anything about it.

pizzapete 4 years, 5 months ago

And that same information taken today can be used to discriminate against the children and future generations. Let's hope this information isn't used for anything other than what it's intended for, catching criminals who's crimes have previously gone unsolved. Information of this sort can be very powerful in the wrong hands, that's why I'm against it.

In_God_we_trust 4 years, 5 months ago

Looks like the government overreach has had the effect of bringing both sides together in agreement with common ground in support of the Constitution.

pti3 4 years, 5 months ago George Annas, J.D., M.P.H.: "... as Dr. Watson said in 1991, when he said, "Speaking as a citizen, I think genetic information should be absolutely private.  The idea that there will be a huge data bank of genetic information on millions of people is repulsive."" Pilar Ossorio, J.D., Ph.D.: "I think the problem of genetic information privacy is set in a larger context in which both government entities and private firms are surveilling, tracking and profiling us like never before."

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