According to the Supreme Court, it’s not an unreasonable search for law enforcement to swab an arrested suspect for DNA and then keep a database of that DNA information for identification purposes.
Justice Kennedy writes in the majority opinion that DNA swabs are just an updated form of wanted posters and fingerprinting:
A DNA profile is useful to the police because it gives them a form of identification to search the records already in their valid possession. In this respect the use of DNA for identification is no different than matching an arrestee’s face to a wanted poster of a previously unidentified suspect; or matching tattoos to known gang symbols to reveal a criminal affiliation; or matching the arrestee’s fingerprints to those recovered from a crime scene. DNA is another metric of identification used to connect the arrestee with his or her public persona, as reflected in records of his or her actions that are available to the police.
Justice Scalia, in dissent, isn’t so sure that the founders would be willing to “open their mouths for royal inspection.”
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.
I therefore dissent, and hope that today’s incursion upon the Fourth Amendment, like an earlier one, will some day be repudiated.
Justice Scalia is referring to New York vs. Belton, a 1981 case that allowed the suspcionless search of an arrestee’s car, and Arizona vs. Gant which overturned it.
As Scalia notes, the coming national database of DNA samples will no doubt help solve more crimes, but a serious cost to our privacy rights I’m afraid.