Family DNA Matching Risks Police Abuses

Earlier this year, I criticized a new law that allows police to take DNA samples from people they arrest for a felony, absent any criminal conviction. As the Denver Post summarized, “The bill was amended to allow police to take DNA tests upon arrest but for the sample not to be processed unless a person is charged. The sample will be destroyed if no charges are filed.”

As I noted, the law will “encourage police and prosecutors to arrest and charge people just to get a look at their DNA.”

Now that Denver police have advanced a program to match crime-scene DNA to samples on record, it is no longer a question of whether the law will be abused, but when.

Michael Roberts writes for Westword, “Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey… [has] been working with colleagues in the Denver Police Department’s crime lab, among others, to prove the efficacy of a method able to connect DNA not in law-enforcement databases to samples from family members…”

Morrissey told Roberts, “We’re running [a sample] against the DNA of somebody else whose sample we obtained legally.”

Except that obtaining somebody else’s DNA legally is now trivially easy. You just come up with some plausible complaint against a person and arrest him. Voila — a legal DNA sample.

So let’s say the police suspect Joe Blow of committing some crime, but they can’t easily find Joe Blow. But they know where to find Sam Blow, Joe’s brother. If only we could figure out if the DNA we found belongs to Joe! All we need to do is get a look at Sam’s DNA. And if Sam isn’t feeling so cooperative…

I do not doubt that taking DNA samples from everybody in the population would help solve more crimes. Hell, we could get a database going with every single person’s fingerprint, DNA, eye scan, special markings, and so on. We could also install every newborn with a barcode and GPS tracker. Update: CNN also carried the story on the DNA tests. Defense attorney Stephen Mercer told CNN, “If they want to drive down the street and do no-knock searches of homes, they would catch bad guys. But at what cost to our society?”

Or, we could retain our liberties. “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…”

November 25 update: “Panel: British police arrest people just for DNA samples.” Coming soon to a Colorado city near you?

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