The Tampa Tribune published an editorial a few days ago supporting a law that forces arrestees to surrender DNA evidence when they are booked. The bill was signed into law a few weeks ago by Governor Crist.
The Trib takes great pleasure in smacking down the honest concerns of civil libertarians like myself, but they throw up a few bad arguments along the way.
They start by calling it a “logical addition” to state law, adding that people who are nowadays convicted of a felony and certain misdemeanors are required to give a DNA sample. The Tribune fails to understand that by requiring DNA of those simply arrested of a felony, the State is crossing the Rubicon.
Their argument essentially boils down to this: Because similar policies are in place, this incremental addition does not constitute a significant invasion of privacy above and beyond the status quo.
“Fingerprints are routinely taken after an arrest,” they say. I might say that DNA is fundamentally different from fingerprints, or argue that the policy of taking fingerprints is also an invasion of privacy. “We are videotaped in public everywhere we go,” they say. That doesn’t strike me as entirely uncontroversial, either. So what if similar practices are in place?
The Germans have an idiom: they say that freedom dies in little pieces. This is a much more eloquent way of saying that we should watch what steps we take down this slope; it might prove to be awfully slippery.
The Trib also makes an argument from utility and public safety, saying that the database has already proven useful to solving crimes and “taking dangerous people off the streets” – got to love that rhetoric. The idea is that a bigger database would mean solving more crimes. The question is, exactly how many, and how do they know? They say that there are as many as 230 hits on the database per month. No word on how many are felonies, or how many result in warrants, arrests, convictions, sentences of any decent amount of time, etc.
There is a good reason that the system oftentimes requires a warrant for taking invasive steps, such as searching a house or examining personal records. Our Constitution embodies the reasoning that it is better to involve impartial, independent third parties along the way to prevent abuses of power by any one institution.
This paragraph in particular really got me:
Appropriately, there is a reasonable process that allows people to have their DNA removed from the database: They can provide to FDLE certified copies of a final court order overturning or setting aside a conviction or certified court records showing formal charges were either not filed or dismissed or that the suspect was acquitted.
So, in the cases in which: you are arrested but held without charges, your charges are dismissed, or you are acquitted, the State acknowledges that they have no right to maintain a copy of your DNA on record. Why do they think it is any different for a person who has just been arrested? They seem to be making half-hearted nods toward libertarian concerns when they agree to remove your DNA from the database after the fact, but the same reasons that support that move argue that they should not take it to begin with.
We could likely prevent every crime by locking up everyone in the country, but that doesn’t justify doing it. We’re not living in a world of absolutes. We’re living in a world in which a balance needs to be struck between privacy and security. One does not override the other, and though it’s often difficult to tell where the line is, my intuitions tell me it is being crossed by the State of Florida as we speak.