(The Root) — In a close (5-4) decision, the Supreme Court narrowly ruled on Monday that police may legally collect DNA from those arrested for but not convicted of a serious crime. According to the New York Times, the federal government already authorizes the practice, as do 28 states, but nevertheless, the ruling has sent shivers up the spines of civil liberties proponents. Although those convicted of felonies already have their DNA collected for cataloging in criminal databases, this latest finding of the court essentially puts DNA in a similar category as fingerprints, which are taken the moment someone is booked.
Opponents have noted that this ruling gives law enforcement the right to invade one’s physical body without actually convicting said individual of any crime. For anyone who has a problem with officers frisking someone who has not been convicted of a crime, having an officer swab DNA will likely not be a welcome addition to the criminal-justice arsenal.
It is rare that the court’s most conservative member, Antonin Scalia, finds himself the ally of the court’s liberal wing or the hero of civil libertarians, but both happened this week because of his impassioned dissent against this ruling. He wrote, “Solving crimes is a noble objective but it occupies a lower place in the American pantheon of noble objectives than the protection of our people from suspicionless law enforcement searches. The Fourth Amendment must prevail.”
The case brought before the court involved Alonzo King, whose DNA was taken during his 2009 arrest for assault and ultimately connected him to a 2003 rape. In the eyes of many, including members of the court, the ability to get people like King off the street outweighs any civil liberties concerns. Furthermore, it can be argued that the more aggressive collection of DNA evidence will help clear innocent people more quickly. But it remains an issue of debate whether or not those potential benefits negate the invasion of privacy that this ruling formally authorizes. For conspiracy theorists, this ruling is likely to further fuel fears that framing someone will actually become easier in the age of DNA.
Keli Goff is The Root’s special correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.