The Supreme Court recently heard oral argument in Maryland v. King, a case considering the constitutionality of warrantless DNA collection from arrestees. We've long warned about the privacy problems with the rise of cheap, easy and fast blanket DNA collection, and filed an amicus brief with the Court urging it to hold the government can only obtain this sensitive genetic material with a search warrant. While it can be fruitless trying to read the tea leaves of oral argument, one specific idea—that technological advances making DNA analysis faster means warrantless collection may be OK—should leave you worried about the fate of privacy going forward in the digital age.
One of the main disagreements surrounding the issue of DNA collection is whether the state is collecting DNA from arrestees for immediate identification—to figure out if they've arrested the right person and learn who that person is for purposes of making a bail determination—or for past and future investigation—to solve cold cases and to store DNA for future searches. The state has long claimed they used DNA for both, while we've argued the government simply isn't able to use DNA collection for immediate identification purposes since there's currently a delay in analyzing DNA ranging from several days up to a few months. But with the rise of rapid DNA analyzers which can analyze DNA in 90 minutes, law enforcement is chomping at the bit to purchase and install these devices at police stations across the country.