Nationwide DNA Collection Checkpoints Begin in Alabama

June 11th, 2013

In the US, civil libertarians serve an important role by keeping a watchful eye on government policies that could come into conflict with our constitutional traditions. The Daily Caller is reporting on a wacky new program, initiated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in cooperation with the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs, that does exactly that, and activists across the state are deeply concerned.

Over the past weekend, off-duty Alabama police officers set up DNA and blood collection roadblocks in the counties of St Clair and Bibb. Though motorists were not required to give blood or DNA against their consent, they were offered money in exchange for these biological samples. A St Clair County Sheriff’s Department official indicated that the screenings are going to take place in 60 locations nationwide. Allegedly, the samples are only being taken as a part of a study on impaired driving, though it’s not clear how DNA would be useful for that at all. It seems more likely that this is yet another covert attempt by the federal government to fish for the private medical data of citizens in an effort to build a comprehensive list of Americans based on DNA.

The Study Lacks Scientific Controls

The first glaring issue with the government’s story is the fact that the checkpoint-based study couldn’t possibly produce any scientific outcomes. Consider St Clair Sheriff’s Department rep Lt Freddie Turrentine’s statement on how these checkpoints work, “They are trying to get 75,000 participants with anonymous donations of blood — and they don’t know whose blood or whose swab it is — and they are trying to say, ‘OK, after this hour at night, out of these 75,000 people 10 percent of them had alcohol in their blood or 12 percent of them had some kind of narcotic in their blood. That is all they’re doing, for impaired driving,’”

First of all, impaired drivers are unlikely to consent to a blood or DNA sample study at a police roadblock. This makes it very difficult to determine the percentage chance that someone driving through a particular checkpoint has consumed drugs or alcohol. Those who consent are disproportionately likely to be clean and sober.

Under What Authority?

Why are off-duty police officers allowed to conduct roadblocks on behalf of a private contractor working for the federal government? Also, why is the federal government conducting studies of this nature in the first place? Where does the Constitution authorize the government to pay individual citizens in exchange for biological specimens?

Are off-duty Alabama police officers allowed to commandeer the roadways for other market research studies? Could other federal departments begin using these checkpoints to do other mundane bureaucratic activities like informing the public of the availability of food stamps?

Checkpoints and roadblocks in general are unconstitutional. Citizens should not be stopped by police for any type of questioning unless they are suspected criminals. In light of the NSA scandal, citizens should fear giving biological samples to the government. In fact, the federal government should not be allowed to collect such material in the first place, as it has no real-world utility for an organization that claims to primarily provide national defense and civic infrastructure. The private medical details encoded in citizens’ DNA, on the other hand, could be tyrannically abused by a future authoritarian regime.

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About the Author: Barry Donegan

Barry Donegan is a singer for the experimental mathcore band Look What I Did, a writer, a self-described "veteran lifer in the counterculture", a political activist/consultant, and a believer in the non-aggression principle.