The Intimate Nature of DNA in Crime-Solving

Seton Hall Legislative Journal

PUBLISHED ON: May 4, 2020

In Carpenter v. United States, the Supreme Court held that law enforcement officials may no longer retrieve the cell-site location information from cell network carriers without first obtaining a warrant.  The Court ruled that collection of this information was protected by the Fourth Amendment due to the sensitive nature of location tracking.  Prior to Carpenter, prosecutors could acquire location information from carriers without a warrant because courts found that suspects had voluntarily given the information to their cellular network carrier, thereby depriving the location information of its subjective privacy interest. In the realm of genetic information and its use in criminal investigations, law enforcement officials can use DNA in a variety of ways and may acquire it covertly, consensually, by force, or from family members.  Because there is no privacy interest in abandoned property or voluntarily revealed information, law enforcement officials have circumvented privacy interests in genetic data by claiming that a person who exposes their DNA to a company or website that collects and analyzes DNA (such as Ancestry.com or 23&Me) has somehow undermined their privacy interest in their own genetic information.

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