Within every democratic society, tensions exist between individual rights and government rights. Through the democratic process, countries like the United States have formal procedures in place that effectively act as checks and balances and ensure governmental agencies are not overstepping boundaries.

A recent ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, however, has raised concerns among many criminal justice and privacy advocacy groups related to the widespread collection of DNA samples. Previous to the recent court decision, law enforcement officials were only legally able to collect DNA samples from individuals who were convicted of
criminal charges. The new ruling, however, now allows officials to collect DNA samples from any individual who is arrested, even if they are not convicted of any charges.

There is no doubt that DNA evidence has helped solve many crimes and been useful in proving the innocence of some individuals. Despite the benefits of DNA technology, many fear that its widespread collection and use will eventually lead to abuses of power.

For example, law enforcement officials could potentially use existing DNA evidence to discover personal information related to an individual’s health and family. What’s more, police have already admitted to using DNA evidence to find and pursue relatives of suspects.

As a free and democratic society, Americans expect certain personal freedoms. Americans already know that governmental and law enforcement agencies actively monitor citizens and collect numerous amounts of personal data. In the coming months, we’ll continue to report on these types of matters as the ethical debate continues to be waged over privacy rights and matters related to the collection and use of DNA evidence.

Source: The Oregonian, “Spread of DNA Databases Sparks Ethical Concerns,” July 12, 2013