Monday, June 3rd, with a slim margin of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court of the United States agreed that police can sample DNA from an arrested individual and keep the specimen afterward, regardless of innocence or guilt. This is one of two cases before the Supreme Court this year as they also tackle the controversial case of whether or not corporations can patent DNA. Both of these subjects are important and reflect deeply on the nature of privacy and the very building blocks of life that compose a human.
DNA Services of America is a company that tests and profiles DNA sequences for individuals to answer questions for genealogy purposes, paternity disputes, forensic testing, and even immigration services. As such, this is a very important topic. So the question is to be asked, do you own the rights to your own DNA and should that be private?
To begin with, it is important to note that the Supreme Court’s ruling only applies to person apprehended. The police can’t lift DNA without probably cause, currently. In this regard, the Supreme Court has decided that DNA is similar to a fingerprint and is nothing more than an identifying mark of a person. Applications of collecting DNA are important for cases of sexual abuse, as well as when blood is present at a crime scene, etc. The application of this law should help keep people who are innocent from being prosecuted. The disturbing aspect of the case is the nature that the police can keep a copy of your DNA on file once it is collected. This is again similar to fingerprints, which are taken during an arrest and then kept on file. Personally, while it may seem that is a overstep of power for both law enforcement agencies and the Supreme Court, the decision was based off of current practices already in place throughout the United States.
However, the next case to be heard is truly interesting. Can a company patent genes? Can a company patent DNA? While the thought itself seems absurd, there are important questions to be asked that are at the heart of this case, and it goes beyond privacy. Ultimately the case will be built around the idea that companies are experimenting with DNA and therefore any findings they have that can benefit can be patented and protected. This begins to sound like something out of a science fiction story, or the movie GATTACA. However as we move forward in DNA studies these questions will have to be asked and defined. It is interesting to note that this time is already here.