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DNA, Fingerprints…What’s The Diff?

The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that police can take a DNA sample from a suspect who has been arrested without first getting a warrant. In the majority opinion, the court claims that there’s no difference between collecting fingerprints and collecting DNA. That is patently wrong on eighteen different levels. 

First of all, as Scalia pointed out in the dissenting opinion, this shits all over the 4th amendment. Police need a warrant to search a person’s home for evidence. That means that they need to go to a court to demonstrate that they have sufficient evidence against a suspect in the first place, to justify entering the home for the collection of more evidence. In other words, the police can’t enter your home to get some evidence without first establishing that they already have a reasonable suspicion that you’re a viable suspect.

In this case of Alonzo King, the police arrested him on the suspicion of committing an assault (he did confess). They ostensibly had the evidence to make that arrest. I can’t find any evidence that there was a DNA sample at the scene of that crime that required a comparison sample. The police then collected a DNA sample from him, just because. Now keep in mind that they didn’t get a warrant to collect that DNA, and he wasn’t yet convicted of doing a fucking thing, and the collection of the sample had nothing to do with making the assault charge stronger. They just gratuitously took his DNA, thereby crapping on the 4th amendment.

After they collected King’s DNA, they entered it into a national DNA database (CODIS) and discovered that it matched a DNA sample collected at the scene of a rape committed six years earlier. He was subsequently convicted of that rape, based solely on the DNA match. That conviction was correctly overturned because of the warrantless DNA collection. Keep in mind that the police had no other evidence connecting King to the rape, and therefore had no probable cause to compare his DNA to the DNA collected at the crime scene. 

In my opinion, there should be evidence presented to a court to demonstrate that there is probable cause to collect DNA, and there should be great care and consideration given before a DNA sample is allowed to be collected. I certainly don’t think that a DNA sample should be collected just because. And I definitely don’t believe that a DNA sample should be taken, simply because someone is arrested. Keep in mind that arrested isn’t guilty, or even eventually convicted.

There are two things about the mass collection of DNA that should scare the shit out of everyone.

The first concern is with the police themselves. They are increasingly becoming incapable of doing effective police work. Instead of establishing ties and developing relationships with the communities they serve, they are turning into ineffective bullies. They’ve replaced learning my name and touching base with me every so often with stopping and frisking my black neighbor for no reason other than we live in Harlem. They shut down whole cities in pursuit of one person, rather than relying on the tens of thousands of eyes in that city to help them. They sit in “command centers” watching thousands of hours of video of tourists taking pictures of Times Square, instead of talking to people. They have become lazy (NYPD made that allegation against their own officers during the stop and frisk trial two weeks ago) thugs who don’t even know how to gather intelligence anymore. Instead of assuming that we’re all law abiding citizens who want safe streets, they assume that we’re all guilty of something. They surveil, and stop and frisk all of us just to catch the small percentage of us that are doing the slightest thing wrong. And it isn’t working. Remember, the police didn’t catch the would-be Times Square bomber. A responsible citizen reported seeing something suspicious. All of the cameras and the intimidation isn’t working. And when an organization views an entire community with suspicion, putting more information in their hands is a very bad idea. They’re not going to use these tools to protect you because they believe that you’re guilty of something. This is just going to make them dumber, lazier, more thuggish, and less effective.

And yes I know that in this case, they caught a rapist that they wouldn’t have caught otherwise. To that I say, if you’re okay with this, you’re replacing one menace with another. They should have been able to catch the rapist with police work. And I’m not willing to put more power in the hands of an organization that; a) isn’t competent enough to catch a rapist any other way b) sees us all as criminals. I’m not willing to empower one evil to extinguish another. You’re not eliminating danger that way. You’re just shifting that danger around.

The scariest part of this lies in how DNA is nothing like fingerprinting. Your fingerprint belongs to you and only you. If it’s found somewhere, that means that you were there. Your DNA belongs to your entire family. Your DNA will contain markers shared by your parents, siblings, children, grandparents, and grandchildren. That’s some scary shit.

Let’s say that my sister is arrested for peacefully protesting something (if I had a sister, I would want her to be an activist!) She is then arrested, and will be released a few hours later. During the booking process, her DNA is collected. A few years later, a bodega in my neighborhood is robbed and someone is shot. Since this bodega is in my neighborhood, I often go there to buy a newspaper. During the course of the investigation, DNA samples are collected. My DNA, which is on some newspapers in the bodega  then shows up as having the right number of markers to tie me to my sister. The police then come barreling down my door. Do you see where this can go horribly wrong? The faster law enforcement can get DNA samples from some of us, the faster they will have DNA on all of us.

Putting more data in the hands of an organization that views you as the enemy is dangerous. Remember, David Petraeus’ affair was exposed because an FBI agent with an agenda had access to his emails. What do you think is going to happen when people have access to everyone’s DNA. As we saw with Patraeus, no one is above the negative ramifications of rampant data collection.

So no SCOTUS, collecting DNA is nothing like collecting a fucking fingerprint. And frankly, I can’t believe there are five people stupid enough to make that assertion on the highest court in the land.



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