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Court OK's DNA Collection Like 'Gattaca'

The recent Supreme Court ruling in Maryland v. King makes it legal for anyone arrested for a "serious crime" can have their DNA taken (via cheek swab, for example) and collected for later use.

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion treats the standard collection of DNA samples from arrestees in Maryland as the logical outgrowth of the state’s interest in identifying the people it has arrested. This is a bit of a surprise from Kennedy, who can generally be counted on to embrace liberty. Yet in this case, he wrote, the state’s interest in keeping track of everyone it has arrested can be satisfied more accurately by DNA than by fingerprinting. And the swab of the cheek is, he said, little more invasive than a fingerprint.

If DNA sampling was actually like fingerprinting, this argument might be convincing. But of course it isn’t. Fingerprints are a phenotype that reveals nothing except a random pattern that no two individuals share. DNA, however, is your genotype: the blueprint for your entire physical person. If the government has my fingerprints, it’s like they have my randomly assigned Social Security number. If it has my DNA, it’s like they have the entire operating system.

In the 1997 sf film Gattaca, compulsory participation in a DNA database enforces strict genetic standards. The film was directed and written by Andrew Niccol, and starred Ethan Hawke, Uma Thurman and Jude Law.


(Employees provide a DNA sample upon entry)

In the film, the contents of this database determine who is allowed to fully participate in society. People who are brought into the world without genetic engineering form an underclass, whose very DNA denies them access.

Via Bloomberg News.

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