Below is Legal Director Harvey Grossman's Letter to the Editor of The Chicago Tribune
June 12, 2013, Voice of the People

The Tribune's June 5 editorial in response to a Supreme Court ruling on DNA collection before conviction, "Solving crimes with DNA," badly misrepresents the nature of DNA collection and the intimate information that is collected through a so-called "cheek swab." The editorial asserts that "taking a DNA sample is not appreciably more intrusive than taking a fingerprint." Not so.

DNA can be used to make predictions about one's physical and mental health. While the FBI's DNA database uses non-coding DNA, scientists have shown that such DNA is not "junk."

For example, a 2010 study by researchers at Stanford University found that certain non-coding DNA is predictive of schizophrenia, diabetes and arthritis. A fingerprint reveals no such information.

The Tribune appears to be comforted by the fact that in the Maryland law before the court, there are a limited number of crimes for which the DNA can be collected prior to conviction and that the law says that the DNA can be used solely for purposes of identification in criminal cases.

Since the court decision, law enforcement officials — including the Cook County state's attorney's office — have called for broadening the crimes that trigger DNA collection and collecting the samples at the time of arrest, not arraignment.

It is only a matter of time before we see proposals for testing upon arrest, traffic offense, passing through airport security or obtaining a driver's license. Some already advocate for testing at birth to create a massive national DNA database.

And, while the current DNA database is now limited by statute from being used for any other purpose, we know all too well that such policies can be changed. The sharing of this information broadly invites genetic discrimination in a host of settings.

Perhaps the saddest suggestion by those supporting DNA collection before conviction is the notion that once a person is arrested, he or she has lost the right to any genetic privacy.

That should not be our standard.

Hundreds of thousands of people are arrested each year.

Many of these individuals are arrested solely on the basis of another person's (unproven) complaint or the discretion of a single police officer. Many of those arrested are never prosecuted and others are cleared of any wrongdoing.

And, finally, we know that arrests are predominantly and unfairly directed toward communities of color, meaning that young men and women of color will be subject to this intrusion far more frequently than whites. An arrest can be simply a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

One should not forfeit basic constitutional principles on the basis of an unproven charge.

The court's decision is an incredible intrusion into one's personal privacy.

We will see this more clearly as the science develops.

— Harvey Grossman, legal director, American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Chicago