Open wide and say 'nah'

Court rules government can take genetic information on arrest

It’s difficult even for news junkies to keep up with all the scandals and excesses of government these days.

With everything going on in Washington, the recent Supreme Court ruling on DNA evidence might have slipped too easily off the radar. We’re just now getting a chance to discuss it here – but that is no reflection on the level of concern we have about it.

The high court ruled that police may extract DNA evidence from those arrested for “serious” crimes, whatever that means.

The truth is, that distinction – of “serious” crimes – won’t mean anything in the long run. The camel is in the tent.

“Make no mistake about it,” Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in a fiery dissent. “As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.”

Conservatives who were up in arms over even the potential of a national gun registry: How do you feel about the government keeping a national DNA registry?

“The Fourth Amendment forbids searching a person for evidence of a crime when there is no basis for believing the person is guilty of the crime or is in possession of incriminating evidence,” Scalia wrote. “That prohibition is categorical and without exception; it lies at the very heart of the Fourth Amendment.”

The counter-argument is that we already are subject to fingerprinting upon arrest. Absolutely. But that is little different from taking a mug shot; it’s a superficial identifier.

Having your DNA information is something else all together, as is the method of obtaining it. Staining your finger is one thing, but sticking something in your mouth and obtaining bodily fluids is quite another. And for authorities to have your genetic blueprint is another thing entirely.

In effect, the Fourth Amendment’s promise that the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated” has been broken. But only, interestingly enough, with regard to the most sacred of items among the list of “persons, houses, papers, and effects”: your person.

Your houses, papers and effects are now more sacred than your body, as far as this country’s laws are concerned.

What if you refuse? Will they strap you down and force your mouth open? Isn’t this becoming just a little like a dark science fiction story?

We understand authorities’ desire to collect DNA evidence. We realize it will solve some crimes. But at what cost?

The government promises it won’t abuse its unfettered access to our DNA. Forgive us for being skeptical. We suspect, as does Justice Scalia, that the nation’s founders would be even more so.

“I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection,” he wrote.

Indeed, the Constitution and Bill of Rights are a warning from the grave not to trust government.

The past few weeks have been a similar message, with revelations that the government has been abusing its authority to tax by harassing groups and individuals of certain political persuasions and spying on millions of us. The government also targeted the news media for spying under the most dubious of rationales.

More and more, the government is asking us to trust it – while it gives us every reason not to.

It remains for us to open wide and say “nah.”

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Rick McKee Editorial Cartoon