Every dystopian sci-fi film we’ve ever seen is suddenly converging into this present moment in a dangerous trifecta between science, technology and a government that wants to be all-seeing, all-knowing and all-powerful.
By tapping into your phone lines and cell phone communications, the government knows what you say. By uploading all of your emails, opening your mail, and reading your Facebook posts and text messages, the government knows what you write. By monitoring your movements with the use of license plate readers, surveillance cameras and other tracking devices, the government knows where you go.
By churning through all of the detritus of your life—what you read, where you go, what you say—the government can predict what you will do. By mapping the synapses in your brain, scientists—and in turn, the government—will soon know what you remember. And by accessing your DNA, the government will soon know everything else about you that they don’t already know: your family chart, your ancestry, what you look like, your health history, your inclination to follow orders or chart your own course, etc.
Of course, none of these technologies are foolproof. Nor are they immune from tampering, hacking or user bias. Nevertheless, they have become a convenient tool in the hands of government agents to render null and void the Constitution’s requirements of privacy and its prohibitions against unreasonable searches and seizures.
Consequently, no longer are we “innocent until proven guilty” in the face of DNA evidence that places us at the scene of a crime, behavior sensing technology that interprets our body temperature and facial tics as suspicious, and government surveillance devices that cross-check our biometrics, license plates and DNA against a growing database of unsolved crimes and potential criminals.
The government’s acquisition and use of DNA to identify individuals and “solve” crimes has come under particular scrutiny in recent years. Until recently, the government was required to at least observe some basic restrictions on when, where and how it could access someone’s DNA. That has all been turned on its head by various U.S. Supreme Court rulings which likened DNA collection to photographing and fingerprinting suspects when they are booked and affirmed that individuals do not have a right to privacy when it comes to their DNA.
Whereas fingerprint technology created a watershed moment for police in their ability to “crack” a case, DNA technology is now being hailed by law enforcement agencies as the magic bullet in crime solving. It’s what police like to refer to a “modern fingerprint.” However, unlike a fingerprint, a DNA print reveals everything about “who we are, where we come from, and who we will be.”
With such a powerful tool at their disposal, it was inevitable that the government’s collection of DNA would become a slippery slope toward government intrusion.
As it now stands, Americans are vulnerable to the government accessing, analyzing and storing their DNA without their knowledge or permission. All 50 states now maintain their own DNA databases, in addition to the FBI’s massive national DNA database, code-named CODIS (Combined DNA Index System).
Even hospitals have gotten in on the game by taking and storing newborn babies’ DNA, often without their parents’ knowledge or consent. What this means for those born today is inclusion in a government database that contains intimate information about who they are, their ancestry, and what awaits them in the future, including their inclinations to be followers, leaders or troublemakers.
For the rest of us, it’s just a matter of time before the government gets hold of our DNA, either through mandatory programs carried out in connection with law enforcement and corporate America, or through the collection of our “shed” or “touch” DNA, which we leave behind everywhere we go, “on cigarette butts, phones, handles, keyboards, cups” and in our trash. All of this shed DNA is “free for the taking” by police.
What this means is that if you have the misfortune to leave your DNA traces anywhere a crime has been committed, you’ve already got a file somewhere in some state or federal database—albeit it may be a file without a name.
If you haven’t yet connected the dots, let me point the way: Having already used surveillance technology to render the entire American populace potential suspects, DNA technology in the hands of government will complete our transition to a suspect society in which we are all merely waiting to be matched up with a crime.
No longer can we consider ourselves innocent until proven guilty. As I make clear in my book A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, now we are all suspects in a DNA lineup until circumstances and science say otherwise.
What this amounts to is a scenario in which we have little to no defense of against charges of wrongdoing, especially when “convicted” by technology, and even less protection against the government sweeping up our DNA in much the same way it sweeps up our phone calls, emails and text messages.
Yet if there are no limits to government officials being able to access your DNA and all that it says about you, then where do you draw the line? As technology makes it ever easier for the government to tap into our thoughts, our memories, our dreams, suddenly the landscape becomes that much more dystopian.
Nevertheless, not only is DNA fallible, but New York Times reporter Andrew Pollack makes a clear and convincing case that DNA evidence can, in fact, be fabricated. Israeli scientists “fabricated blood and saliva samples containing DNA from a person other than the donor of the blood and saliva,” stated Pollack. “They also showed that if they had access to a DNA profile in a database, they could construct a sample of DNA to match that profile without obtaining any tissue from that person.” The danger, warns scientist Dan Frumkin, is that crime scenes can be engineered with fabricated DNA.
Now if you happen to be the kind of person who trusts the government implicitly and refuses to believe it would ever do anything illegal or immoral, then the prospect of government officials — police, especially — using fake DNA samples to influence the outcome of a case might seem outlandish. But for those who know their history, the probability of our government acting in a way that is not only illegal but immoral becomes less a question of “if” and more a question of “when.”
Attorney John W. Whitehead is founder and president of The Rutherford Institute, a non-profit legal agency concerned with constitutional rights and religious freedoms. His column runs on Tuesdays. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.