Volume 82, Number 1

April 2007

DNA Databases, Universality, and the Fourth Amendment

Paul M. Monteleoni

DNA databases enable extremely accurate criminal identification, and a database with appropriate privacy safeguards could be a boon not only for law enforcement but for civil libertarians as well. Unfortunately, current DNA databases lack important precautions and expose DNA donors to serious risks of abuse. The courts that have heard Fourth Amendment challenges to these databases have uniformly upheld them using one of two different rationales. Some courts have held that DNA databases serve a special need, and others have held that the convicted offenders targeted by current statutes have diminished privacy interests in their DNA. However, neither rationale provides a convincing justification for compelling individuals to provide DNA for a database, with or without safeguards. The problem is not with the substantive reasonableness of DNA collection for an ideal database, but with crafting a judicial decision procedure that allows only reasonable databases and not unreasonable ones. The solution proposed by this Note, accordingly, is an alternative decisionmaking procedure that enlists the assistance of the political process. Under the “universality exception” to the warrant requirement proposed by this Note, a search is reasonable if it is authorized by a statute that truly applies equally to every member of the population. The political process leading to the enactment of a universal DNA database, which this exception would require, would ensure that any such database had appropriate safeguards.