New Research on “Junk” DNA Raises Questions on Eve of Crucial Court Hearing

Picture: Flickr, Peter Alfred Hess (CC)

It seems that new discoveries about DNA, and our own human genome in particular, are coming more rapidly today. More things seem to exist on a scale of genetic variance, and it was recently found that our so-called “junk DNA” is full of important ramifications for genetic disorders and random mutations that determine our evolutionary fate.

But in a more immediate sense, DNA research may raise dire questions and have important bearing on current legal arguments, such as the Ninth Circuit‘s Haskell v. Harris, a case challenging California’s warrantless DNA collection program.

Via Jennifer Lynch at the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

EFF asked the court to consider ground-breaking new research that confirms for the first time that over 80% of our DNA that was once thought to have no function, actually plays a critical role in controlling how our cells, tissue and organs behave.

The government has argued in caseaftercase (pdf) challenging DNA collection that the 13+ genetic markers that make up a person’s DNA profile1  are, in effect, “junk” and provide no more information than a person’s fingerprint. However, the ENCODE research reinforces the points we’ve made multiple times before—that DNA—whether it is in the form of a full genetic sample or an extracted profile—can reveal an extraordinary amount of private information about you, including familial relationshipsmedical history, predisposition for disease, and possibly even behavioral tendencies and sexual orientation.

EFF has filed briefs in Haskell and several other cases challenging DNA collection from arrestees, arguing this kind of warrantless seizure and search violates the Fourth Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that, subject to only a few exceptions that don’t apply here,warrantless searches “are per se unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment.” The Fourth Amendment is designed to protect against laws that give “police officers unbridled discretion to rummage at will among a person’s private effects,” because searches that aren’t tied to finding evidence of the crime at issue “create a serious and recurring threat to the privacy interest of countless individuals.” It doesn’t matter if there is a possibility that the search will reveal something incriminating or useful in solving past or future crimes, the cops still can’t search through our private things without a warrant.

These concerns apply with equal force to government DNA collection programs, which allow the government to obtain sensitive and private information on a person without showing that the data collected is tied to a specific crime. Thanks to changes in the laws to allow DNA collection from arrestees, federal and state DNA databanks have expanded exponentially over the last several years. The FBI’s federal CODIS DNA database now contains over 11.4 million DNA profiles, and nearly 2 million of those came from California.

The EFF goes on to describe the privacy violations of DNA collection that they are fighting, including political activists who were detained and threatened with charges, only to be dismissed and released once their DNA was entered into a police database. They also detail sloppy policing and systemic DNA lab problems, and how noncriminals are being added to the biometric databases.

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  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    which why they call it
    The Police State of the Free

  • http://twitter.com/jasonpaulhayes jasonpaulhayes

    “Junk DNA” is a figurative term not a literal term .. when you switch off a light switch in your home it doesn’t cease to have a function or become a piece of junk.

  • http://twitter.com/jasonpaulhayes jasonpaulhayes

    “Junk DNA” is a figurative term not a literal term .. when you switch off a light switch in your home it doesn’t cease to have a function or become a piece of junk.

  • me

    Firstly,
    it was SO STUPID to call themselves scientists,
    and THINK that something in our bodies ARE JUNK.  ….i mean……
    you have to be really stupid to do that………………………
    :/

  • me

    Firstly,
    it was SO STUPID to call themselves scientists,
    and THINK that something in our bodies ARE JUNK.  ….i mean……
    you have to be really stupid to do that………………………
    :/

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bruce-Miller/100000952005408 Bruce Miller

    Astute and better equipped, Asian meritocracy chosen, government financed Scientists will undoubtedly unravel much that American moron, rich kid, boughten diploma, corpocracy warped, Scientists label ‘junk” much as Asian Scientists seek Thorium LFTR reactors and win –
    See: (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5UT2yYs5YJs) 2017 is the date given,
    for scalable, safe cheap, pressure dome free, benign waste, cheaper
    Thorium fueled, de-centeralized, cooling water free, easy to
    reproduce nuclear reactors.
    World is changing fast now, Sands of Time Shifting, America slipping downwards, evermore warring. Asians reaching harder, winning basic survival but for over 2000 M souls at least while 300 M in U.S. still proclaim superiority?
    Watch closely now, and in Mandarin as these genetic codes are unravelled.

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