John Whitehead's Commentary
The War Over Genetic Privacy Is Just Beginning [SHORT]
“When you upload your DNA, you’re potentially becoming a genetic informant on the rest of your family.”— Law professor Elizabeth Joh
“Guilt by association” has taken on new connotations in the technological age.
All of those fascinating, genealogical searches that allow you to trace your family tree by way of a DNA sample can now be used against you and those you love.
As of 2019, more than 26 million people had added their DNA to ancestry databases. It’s estimated those databases could top 100 million profiles within the year, thanks to the aggressive marketing of companies such as Ancestry and 23andMe.
It’s a tempting proposition: provide some mega-corporation with a spit sample or a cheek swab, and in return, you get to learn everything about who you are, where you came from, and who is part of your extended your family.
The possibilities are endless.
You could be the fourth cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II of England. Or the illegitimate grandchild of an oil tycoon. Or the sibling of a serial killer.
Without even realizing it, by submitting your DNA to an ancestry database, you’re giving the police access to the genetic makeup, relationships and health profiles of every relative—past, present and future—in your family, whether or not they ever agreed to be part of such a database.
After all, a DNA print reveals everything about “who we are, where we come from, and who we will be.”
It’s what police like to refer to a “modern fingerprint.”
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.
Indeed, police have begun using ancestry databases to solve cold cases that have remained unsolved for decades. Who wouldn’t want to get psychopaths and serial rapists off the streets and safely behind bars, right? At least, that’s the argument being used by law enforcement to support their unrestricted access to these genealogy databases.
Except it’s not just psychopaths and serial rapists who get caught up in the investigative dragnet.
Anyone who comes up as a possible DNA match—including distant family members—suddenly becomes part of a circle of suspects that must be tracked, investigated and ruled out.
A few states have started introducing legislation to restrict when and how police use these genealogical databases, yet the debate over genetic privacy—and when one’s DNA becomes a public commodity outside the protection of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition on warrantless searches and seizures—is really only beginning.
Certainly, 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, by warrantlessly accessing our familial DNA shared with genealogical services such as Ancestry and 23andMe, or through the collection of our “shed” or “touch” DNA.
According to research published in the journal Science, more than 60 percent of Americans who have some European ancestry can be identified using DNA databases, even if they have not submitted their own DNA. According to law professor Natalie Ram, one genealogy profile can lead to as many as 300 other people.
That’s just on the commercial side.
All 50 states now maintain their own DNA databases, although the protocols for collection differ from state to state. Increasingly, many of the data from local databanks are being uploaded to CODIS (Combined DNA Index System), the FBI’s massive DNA database, which has become a de facto way to identify and track the American people from birth to death.
Even hospitals have gotten in on the game by taking and storing newborn babies’ DNA, often without their parents’ knowledge or consent. It’s part of the government’s mandatory genetic screening of newborns. In many states, the DNA is stored indefinitely.
What this means for those being 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.
Get ready, folks, because the government has embarked on a diabolical campaign to create a nation of suspects predicated on a massive national DNA database.
The ramifications of these DNA databases are far-reaching.
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.
Now we are all suspects in a DNA lineup until circumstances and science say otherwise.
Suspect Society, meet the American police state.
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.
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.
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.
As history shows, 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.”
As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, this is the slippery slope toward a dystopian world in which there is nowhere to run and nowhere to hide.