With services like 23 and Me, it is becoming technically possible to gather and sample genetic material from many people. There are also rumors about police using similar services to help identify criminals.

This got me thinking, what is stopping a government to require all its citizens to provide their genetic sample, for purposes needed by the government. I believe some police forces already gather genetic material from criminals, but I'm thinking about more broad and general requirement of all (or most) citizens. Most probably, genetic information would be gathered at birth and would be part of citizen's private documentation.


  • Have there been attempts by any government to pass such legislation?
  • What would be problems with such legislation?

2 Answers 2


A government could gather a wide variety of data on their citizens and residents. To name three, pictures, fingerprints, and genetic profiles.

  • Quite a lot of countries which are generally considered reasonably free and democratic require all citizens to have a photo ID.
  • In recent years, fingerprints have become necessary for many passports.
  • As you point out, genetic profiles are not yet in widespread use.

One could well argue that the three examples are just a difference in degree, not a difference in principle. If it is legitimate for a government to require photo ID, then it is just more of the same if they require genetic profiles.

But I see a few differences:

  • Photos, especially without CCTV abd automatic matching, are mostly useful to verify the identity of somebody in front of the police officer or other government employee. Fingerprints and even more DNA are something we leave where we go. So Fingerprints and DNA allow a much more intrusive surveillance.
  • DNA is not just an identifier, it also contains data about the individual. While the data in a DNA profile database is not useful to tell if someone is prone to heart attacks, or likely to get some kinds of cancer. Who knows what else can be predicted from DNA in the future? Once the DNA profile process is in place, testing for that would be a simple upgrade of the hard- and software.

What it comes down in my judgement could be characterized as "need to know." I accept that the government needs a picture and a signature from me so they can issue me an ID card that cannot simply be used by a thief who gets his hands on it. I do not accept that the government needs to be able to tell where I have been unless they have gone through a legal process with probable cause for a specific accusation before they can test a generic sample from me.

There has to be a balance between freedom and security. As the famous proverb goes, those who abandon freedom for security will have neither. But without some security, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

Regarding implementation, it was in an era before DNA profiling, but the secret police of East Germany collected smell samples so they could use tracking dogs. They didn't do it on everyone for logistical reasons.

  • Thanks, that is basically how I imagined it too. Also, your understanding of my using of "world government" is correct.
    – Euphoric
    Oct 27, 2018 at 15:28
  • We don't need to muse what might be available from DNA in the future - right now, it can be used to determine someone's sex, eye and hair color, probable racial appearance, and can be identified as close family of other DNA samples, among many more things. Oct 27, 2018 at 16:28
  • @IllusiveBrian, appearance can be determined from photo ID, so collecting DNA from all citizens brings no benefit in this regard. The kind of analysis you describe would be helpful for the police if they have a sample without a clear ID.
    – o.m.
    Oct 27, 2018 at 17:03

Specifically for the United States, such legislation would run into stiff opposition from Constitutional Originalists, Libertarians, and the like.

The forced collection of genetic material from the general populace would be a direct affront to the protections against government overreach enshrined in the 4th Amendment.

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched,

Maryland v King doesn't apply in the idea presented in the question, because the decision and case was narrowly scoped to being associated with some one already lawfully detained. Though, forecasting the possible future of using DNA in policing, the late Justice Scalia wrote the following in dissent.

"Today’s judgment will, to be sure, have the beneficial effect of solving more crimes; then again, so would the taking of DNA samples from anyone who flies on an airplane (surely the Transportation Security Administration needs to know the “identity” of the flying public), applies for a driver’s license, or attends a public school. Perhaps the construction of such a genetic panopticon is wise. But I doubt that the proud men who wrote the charter of our liberties would have been so eager to open their mouths for royal inspection. I therefore dissent, and hope that today’s incursion upon the Fourth Amendment, like an earlier one, will some day be repudiated." - Justice Scalia

On review, there is a curious additional question: would this be considered forcing an individual to bear witness against themselves if a sample is taken from the person?

  • 1
    Justice Scalia laid out the problems with this idea rather forcefully in his 'genetic panopticon' dissent in Maryland v. King Oct 27, 2018 at 16:06
  • @eyeballfrog please expand on your comment. Is that a critique if the idea put forth by the question, providing an additional reference to this answer, or a repudiation of the answer? I assume the former, but assumptions are weak tea. Oct 27, 2018 at 16:27
  • Oh, I meant it as an additional point for this answer. Sorry if it wasn't clear. Oct 27, 2018 at 16:38

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