Gov. Perdue and Attorney General Roy Cooper are in my hometown of Greenville today to announce a new program that will collect DNA from people accused of serious crimes. Those DNA samples will be stored in a state database.
Privacy advocates are rightly concerned about taking bits of DNA from people accused, but not convicted, of crimes.
This plan is reminiscent of legislation passed by the General Assembly that authorizes the State Health Plan to contract with a private company to randomly cheek swab public employees and test those samples for evidence of nicotine use. The State Health Plan has decided not to conduct the tests for now, but it retains the authority to begin swabbing at any time.
The two cases are not perfectly analogous. The chunks of cheek collected from state workers will presumably not be stored and will not be used for purposes other than catching smokers. But the issues raise similar privacy concerns. Yet the case of DNA collection from criminal suspects has received huge amounts of press attention and serious, thoughtful objections. Meanwhile, the random testing of state employees generated few stories in the press and not a whiff of opposition from privacy advocates. Rep. Pricey Harrison was the only person to publicly express reservations about the policy in a committee meeting (and I attended nearly every relevant committee meeting).
We should not have to rely on the magnanimity of State Health Plan leadership to ensure the privacy of state workers. The General Assembly should strip away the authority to conduct random tests. And I hope we will hear more from those protecting our rights to live our lives and do our jobs without having our DNA swabbed from our cheeks.