“Bill of Rights a live wire, 222 years later”

At Utah’s Deseret News, reporter Eric Schulzke writes on how “the U.S. Bill of Rights remains a work in progress 222 years after it became law — a continuing struggle between government claims for order and security, and the individual’s interest in clarity and freedom. This past year, the struggle played out in numerous areas, including free speech and search and seizure rules, to touch just a few.” He quotes me on the hope of bright-line rules establishing the public’s right to take pictures of law enforcement (recent Hawthorne, Calif. cause celebre here), on the need to focus on state and local police use of DNA databases before the inevitable abuses establish themselves, and on how four significant Fourth Amendment cases made it to the Supreme Court this year: “‘Here we are 200 years later, and a lot of big, interesting questions still haven’t been settled on what the Bill of Rights says about search and seizures,’ Olson said.” A sidebar reviews the year in civil liberties controversies.


  • “.. on the need to focus on state and local police use of DNA databases before the inevitable abuses establish themselves”

    I am not the brightest candle on the cake, but I have some light in me, and I can’t conceive of the inevitable abuse.

  • For example, the FBI criminal records database has been abused when local police personnel have run background checks on persons for improper motives (for example, because private investigators have paid them to do so). DNA databases run by local law enforcement, and predictably run at a lower level of professionalism than the FBI’s, will inevitably be vulnerable to such improper requests.

  • I proved not to be the brightest candle by letting off “of the DNA database” from my last sentence. Criminal records provide information of Jones holding up the 7/11 as a youngster. Such information should be private. But what can be done knowing your alleles? Even here, the information comes from non-coding regions of your DNA so your propensity for cancer wouldn’t be revealed.

  • Again, the main problems are because the DNA provides *identification*. As the NYT pointed out a couple of weeks ago, some local police are entering into databases DNA of persons who are not even arrestees but simply witnesses or other bystanders, sometimes obtaining it without consent through coffee cup leavings and the like. Someone intending to misuse the database later may indeed need DNA identifiers for the persons whose privacy they intend to breach — again, coffee cup leavings may be enough — at which point they can start looking for old dirt.