On the path to Gattaca

gattaca01Vincent in Gattaca warned us against a world that discriminated based upon your genetic makeup and this week the United States moved closer to that dystopian future. The US Supreme Court ruled in Maryland v King that DNA material may be taken, without the police needing to establish a reason for taking the swab;

…that evidence of a crime can be collected without any particular suspicion, avoiding the pesky requirement of a warrant that the Founding Fathers thought would give us liberty and privacy.

 

The majority reasoned that, as police routinely take fingerprints of suspects, it was a short step to creating a database that recorded your DNA too. However as Noah Feldman, a professor of constitutional law at Harvard University, points out:

If DNA sampling was actually like fingerprinting, this argument might be convincing. But of course it isn’t. Fingerprints are a phenotype that reveals nothing except a random pattern that no two individuals share. DNA, however, is your genotype: the blueprint for your entire physical person. If the government has my fingerprints, it’s like they have my randomly assigned Social Security number. If it has my DNA, it’s like they have the entire operating system.

Jim Harper of the Cato Institute has released an excellent podcast discussing the potential effect of the Supreme Court’s decision. Unfortunately, the US is not the only nation trying to map our most private information. The United Kingdom has also made worrying steps to a Gattaca future, and already has an extensive database recording the DNA of its citizenry.

The Los Angeles Times has written on the potential danger of recording DNA, and that the risk of having your DNA data leaked is extreme. Quite simply:

Nobody can promise privacy.

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