Don’t Let the Police Steal Your DNA

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock

In our recent episode of The Upgrade on How to Protest, we learned a lot about what American police do and do not have the right to do when making an arrest. One of the most important things we learned is that the police will likely try to get a sample of your DNA, but that you do not have to — and should not — consent to it. You are not legally obligated to comply with a cheek swab, despite what they may tell you.

According to Maryanne Kaishian, Senior Staff Attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services, the police have a number of ways in which they might try and trick you into handing over a DNA sample:

DNA is an important thing that the police will be seeking, but that you do not have to provide. They may try to make that seem like a very basic part of the processing of your arrest. You know, “now we’re just going to swab your cheek. [T]his is what we do,” and then move on to the next part, or, “we’ll just swab your cheek and then you can go,” or, “you just need to provide a sample.” You do not have to provide DNA to the police. And you should not consent to your DNA being taken. Now, that being said, there are other ways for the police to collect your DNA, and we want you to be aware of those things. They include offering people water, offering them gum, cigarettes, food, anything that you might consume, but then leave a part of it behind, you know, a plastic water bottle or the butt of a cigarette that then contains your DNA. The police will collect it and store it…So it’s critical that you keep yourself out of that database.

Kaishian went on to explain that in New York City, the NYPD already has an extensive DNA database which includes many profiles that shouldn’t be included at all, such as minors and people who haven’t been convicted of crimes, only questioned or thought to be “suspicious”. Though she couldn’t speak to the practices of other police departments, we know that Rapid DNA machines are already used by police across the country, and there is a lot of debate around the privacy concerns with police departments having access to these vast DNA databases (some even calling it a“Genetic Stop and Frisk”).

To put it simply, if you should be arrested at an upcoming Black Lives Matter protest, remember:

  • Do not consent to a DNA swab, even if they falsely tell you it’s “mandatory.”
  • Do not accept water, gum, snacks, or any other kind of consumable from which police can later collect your DNA.

For more important legal advice, we highly recommend checking out the full podcast episode:

How to Protest, With Activists L.A. Kauffman and Charlene Carruthers

What are our rights when it comes to protesting? How do we protest safely and effectively during this pandemic? We answer these questions and more this week with help from activists L.A. Kauffman and Charlene Carruthers. L.A. is a veteran grassroots organiser with over 35 years of experience in political...

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