Ethics and Information Technology

, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 55–63 | Cite as

Beware! Uncle Sam has Your DNA: Legal Fallout from its Use and Misuse in the U.S.

  • Marcia J. Weiss


Technology has provided state and federal governments with huge collections of DNA samples and identifying profiles stored in databanks. That information can be used to solve crimes by matching samples from convicted felons to unsolved crimes, and has aided law enforcement in investigating and convicting suspects, and exonerating innocent felons, even after lengthy incarceration. Rights surrounding the provision of DNA samples, however, remain unclear in light of the constitutional guarantee against “unreasonable searches and seizures” and privacy concerns. The courts have just begun to consider this issue, and have provided little guidance. It is unclear whether the laws governing protected health information are applicable to the instant situation, and if so, the degree to which they apply. DNA databanks are not uniformly regulated, and it is possible that DNA samples contained in them may be used for purposes unintended by donors of the samples. As people live their lives, they leave bits of their DNA behind. They cannot be assured that these tiny specimens will not be taken or used against their will or without their knowledge for activities such as profiling to measure tendencies such as thrill-seeking, aggressiveness, or crimes with threatening behavior. Existing racial or ethnic discrimination and profiling may also encompass genetic discrimination and profiling, creating societal class distinctions. This article will explore the constitutionality of collecting genetic materials, the ethics of such activities, and balance the social good in solving crime and deterrence against the individual's security, liberty, and privacy.

DNA databanks privacy property unreasonable search and seizure 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marcia J. Weiss
    • 1
  1. 1.Point Park UniversityPittsburghUSA;

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