"It profits me but little that a vigilant authority always protects the tranquillity of my pleasures and constantly averts all dangers from my path, without my care or concern, if this same authority is the absolute master of my liberty and my life."

--Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America

Monday, June 3, 2013

Brave New World

Today's Supreme Court decision in Maryland v. King, permits (5-4) law enforcement to take DNA samples from people arrested (and not just from people convicted of a crime).    In other words, innocent people.   This is fairly obviously the first step toward a national database in which every person's DNA will now be searchable... Obamacare may be the regime that fills in the gap with information about innocent people who have happily never been arrested for anything.   To what rude purpose will some rude, slouching beast of the future put such information?   We cannot know.   But coupled with the IRS' targeting of specific individuals based on the content of their thoughts (too conservative?  too Christian?) we are moving quickly toward Huxley's Brave New World.  

Notably, the decision features the unlikely division of four conservatives and one liberal (Breyer) in the majority, and three liberals and one staunch civil libertarian conservative in the minority (Scalia), Justice Scalia's dissent is well worth reading in its entirety.   Here is a cautionary nugget:

The Court disguises the vast (and scary) scope of itsholding by promising a limitation it cannot deliver. The Court repeatedly says that DNA testing, and entry into a national DNA registry, will not befall thee and me, dear reader, but only those arrested for "serious offense[s]."   Ante, at 28; see also ante, at 1, 9, 14, 17, 22, 23, 24 (repeatedly limiting the analysis to "serious offenses"). I cannot imagine what principle could possibly justify this limitation, and the Court does not attempt to suggest any.  If one believes that DNA will "identify" someone arrested for assault, he must believe that it will "identify" someone arrested for a traffic offense. This Court does not base its judgments on senseless distinctions. At the end of the day, logic will out. When there comes before us the taking of DNA from an arrestee for a traffic violation, the Court will predictably (and quite rightly) say, "We can find no significant difference between this case and King." Make no mistake about it: As an entirely predictable consequence of today’s decision, your DNA can be taken and entered into a national DNA database if you are ever arrested, rightly or wrongly, and for whatever reason.
         Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes; then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane (surely the Transportation Security Administration needs to know the "identity" of the flying public), applies for a driver’s license, or attends a public school. Perhaps the construction of such a genetic panopticon is wise. But I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection.

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