DNA Databases and Discarded Private Information: “Your License, Registration and Intimate Bodily Details, Please”

June 16, 2012

In the small town of Truro, Massachusetts, three years had passed and the police could still not find the killer of freelance fashion writer Christa Worthington. Christa was found stabbed to death with her two year old daughter “clinging to her body.” Local police found semen on Worthington’s body, providing a DNA sample, an important clue to help solve the case. As has occurred on other occasions in the United States and abroad, investigators deployed a so-called “DNA Dragnet” of all 790 males in the town. Police asked men in Truro to provide investigators with a DNA sample in order to check it against the DNA found on Worthington. While the program was voluntary, investigators indicated that those who were unwilling to provide a sample would be viewed with suspicion by the police. Sergeant David Perry of the Truro Police Department stated, “[w]e’re trying to find that person who has something to hide.” In addition, the analysis becomes more common in society, it has the potential to open the door to prevalent, unchecked use of DNA sampling in the absence of the protections provided either by an alternative legal standard or statutory privacy protections.
This Recent Development proposes that Fourth Amendment rights are inadequately protected in the face of rampant technological change fueled by scientific developments which were not present in the arenas of prior Fourth Amendment jurisprudence. Fourth Amendment privacy-protecting safeguards cannot sufficiently protect against a drift into a future in which the intimate secrets of one’s body are unlocked and held by the government for any future use. Therefore, this Recent Development argues that prophylactic measures are necessary to strike the proper balance between the legitimate state interest in collecting accurate and sufficient information about the criminals and the individual’s interest in adequate protection for the vast personal and private information contained within DNA. With appropriate limits on what information the government may glean from DNA samples, DNA testing and analysis on a wide scale can balance privacy interests with the important governmental interest of accurate law enforcement.