Ending the DNA Storing and Tracking CA Kids

A new bill seeks to eliminate the California “biobank” created last year over strenuous objections from privacy advocates and some judges.

Assembly Bill 170, introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D-Glendale, aims to curb the broad and longstanding practice of acquiring and storing the DNA of children born here. The bill, California Newswire reports:

“would strengthen the notice requirements when dried blood spot (DBS) samples are taken from newborns to screen for diseases.

“Gatto’s proposal would require that parents be provided information regarding the retention of DBS samples, including the parents’ right to request the destruction of their child’s DBS. The bill would further permit children to request the destruction of their DBS when they reach adulthood.”

In a press release, Gatto cast AB170 as a defense of Californians’ fundamental privacy interests. “Whenever data is stored, data can fall into the wrong hands. Imagine the discrimination a person might face if their HIV status, or genetic predisposition to a mental disorder, were revealed to the public,” he said. “Parents should have the right to protect their children and people should have the right to control how their personal medical records are used once they reach adulthood.”

Courting controversy

With the bill, Gatto has stepped squarely into a major debate over a rights issue that reaches to the highest levels of the U.S. courts. In Maryland v. King, a 2013 case, the U.S. Supreme Court narrowly upheld a Maryland law that permitted cops to sample DNA in the course of arrest for serious crimes.

As the Washington Post summarized the decision, the justices “ruled 5 to 4 that government has a legitimate interest in collecting DNA from arrestees, just as it takes photographs and collects fingerprints. Rejecting the view that the practice constitutes an unlawful search, the majority said it was justified to establish the identity of the person in custody.”

But that was not the end to legal challenges of DNA takings. In Haskell v. Harris, in March 2014 the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal confronted a class action lawsuit claiming California’s genetic swab policy amounted to an unconstitutional search and seizure. The law authorizing cops to swab after a felony arrest dated to 1998, when the DNA and Forensic Identification Database and Data Bank Act was approved by voters for inclusion in the criminal code.

But the 9th Circuit ruled strongly in favor of the law in light of Maryland v. King.

The plaintiffs had argued “that California’s law is broader than Maryland’s and threatens privacy rights more,” as the San Jose Mercury News reported. But the 9th Circuit rejected that reasoning.

To the frustration of civil liberties advocates, both the Obama administration and California Attorney General Kamala Harris sided with the state of California and against the plaintiff, “citing the national importance of DNA collection laws that 28 states have enacted.”

Despite these setbacks for civil libertarians, the matter was still not settled. In Dec. 2014, a panel of the First Appellate District Court in San Francisco ruled 3-0 that the collection of DNA in the course of an arrest was unconstitutional. The trial court in the case had authorized police to use “reasonable force” to obtain a sample of the plaintiff’s DNA.

So the matter of DNA collection still is not entirely settled.

Security vs. choice

Similar claims to take DNA samples based on the public good have come into play in the brewing fight over Gatto’s legislation. California’s biobank, the Los Angeles Times notes, “holds blood taken with the prick of a heel from almost every baby born in California for the last three decades. It is used to screen for 80 health disorders, such as cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia. Unlike most states, California keeps the frozen samples indefinitely and shares them with genetic researchers, for a fee.”

Supporters of the procedure, including state officials, argue “the samples are secure and are used to save lives,” supplying researchers with an adequate supply of genetic material to conduct important tests and work toward advancing public health.

In that way, the fight over AB170 pits two big public policy objectives against one another: security versus choice. This creates yet another uncomfortable cleavage between Democrats.

While one wing of the party has fully embraced a role for government in the details of everyday life, another wing has bridled against what it perceives to be invasive violations of individual rights. For the former, the debate over DNA comes down to the importance of security; for the latter, it comes down to the primacy of informed choice.

Originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Harry Jaffa, RIP

Harry Jaffa, 96, died on Saturday. He was one of the rare persons who combined an influential academic career with activism in politics, in particular the Goldwater Movement of 1964.

Professor Emeritus at Claremont McKenna College and Claremont Graduate University and a distinguished fellow of the Claremont Institute, Jaffa was dean of what National Review has called “Claremont conservatism,” which is influential not only in California, but throughout the country.

In academe, Jaffa is best known for his Lincoln scholarship, going back to 1959 and the highly influential “Crisis of the House Divided: An Interpretation of the Issues in the Lincoln-Douglas Debates.” The sequel, after a lifetime of scholarship and refelection, came in 2004 with, “A New Birth of Freedom: Abraham Lincoln and the Coming of the Civil War.”

The latter book highlights the Gettysburg Address, which Jaffa maintained was “a speech within a drama. It can no more be interpreted apart from the drama than, let us say, a speech by Hamlet or MacBeth can be interpreted apart from Hamlet or MacBeth. The Gettysburg Address is a speech within the tragedy of the Civil War, even as Lincoln is its tragic hero. The Civil War is itself an outcome of tragic flaws — birthmarks, so to speak — of the infant nation.”

According to a National Review profile last year:

Jaffa is one of the most famously cantankerous intellectuals in America …. This is especially true for fellow conservatives. “If you think Harry Jaffa is hard to argue with, try agreeing with him,” quipped William F. Buckley Jr. in the foreword to one of Jaffa’s books. “He studies the fine print in any agreement as if it were a trap, or a treaty with the Soviet Union.”

Other sparring partners have included George Will and the late Irving Kristol. NR wrote:

“I do not mean to be gentle with you,” Jaffa once wrote in an open letter to Walter Berns, another conservative scholar. “In your present state of mind, nothing less than a metaphysical two-by-four across the frontal bone would capture your attention.” 

(Alas, Berns, another influential scholar of the conservative movement, himself died on the same day as Jaffa, at 95.)

Goldwater 64

In practical politics, Jaffa was best known as a speechwriter for Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater’s 1964 presidential campaign. Not many political phrases are remembered five days after a campaign, let alone five decades. But this lone Goldwater spoke in his GOP Convention acceptance at the Cow Palace in San Francisco still is recalled, “Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice, and moderation in the pursuit of justice is not a virtue.”

The line was a dig at the “moderate” Rockefeller wing of the party that Goldwater had defeated, also called “Me Too” Republicans back then for going along with Democratic Party increases in taxes and government; or what today is called a RINO — Republican in Name Only.

President Johnson’s campaign ran with it, part of its ongoing smears of Goldwater as an “extremist” who would start endless wars. That theme most infamously was shown in the LBJ campaign’s “Daisy” attack ad, itself one of the few campaign ads anyone remembers. It depicted a little girl picking daisies as an atomic bomb explodes in the background over Johnson’s voiceover warning that Goldwater would get the country involved in deadly wars.

Ironically, it was LBJ who got the country involved in the Vietnam quagmire that cost 58,000 brave young American lives, and in the end was lost.

Liberty

But the point of Jaffa, and Goldwater, was that liberty is non-negotiable. Lincoln said in the “House Divided” speech in 1857 that Jaffa wrote about, “In my opinion, it will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached, and passed. ‘A house divided against itself cannot stand.’ I believe this government cannot endure, permanently half slave and half free.”

Lincoln did not say, “I believe this government can endure, maybe 1/10 slave and 9/10 free. After all, we don’t need extremism in defense of ending slavery.”

Although Goldwater lost, his campaign inspired a generation of conservatives, many of them later Jaffa’s students at Claremont. The conservative movement helped elect Ronald Reagan, a big Goldwater backer, president in 1980 and 84.

And conservatism remains a strong voice in American politics, as the GOP victory in last November’s election showed. Jaffa’s work endures.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com

Millennials & Privacy – An Opportunity for Conservatives

It is well documented that the Republican brand has had a difficult time connecting with millennial voters.  In part, the sophistication of the Obama campaign in both 2008 and 2012 enabled the Left’s message to resonate within the ether of social media, a medium dominated by America’s youth ever since its inception.  Seen as aging and uncool, the Republican image can trace some of its ineffectiveness in the last few elections to their inability to connect with younger voters, particularly in urban and campus environments.  Pew Research polls indicate that millennials (roughly defined as those aged 18-34) are the most liberal of any voting block, and approximately half of those in the category identify with the Democratic Party, while only a third label themselves Republicans.

This could soon change, however.

Not because the Republicans have ascertained the best method for connecting with millennials, but rather because there is an issue upon which conservatives and millennials are increasingly in sync: privacy.  The voting block is increasingly becoming more concerned about the government’s intrusion into their daily lives, both with respect to increased drone surveillance and cyber-spying.  This is especially true when millennials become parents themselves, something occurring with greater frequency over the next several years as millennials age into parenthood.  Research by FutureCast, an organization with expertise in marketing to millennials, notes that, once they have children, the group is three times more likely to have significant concerns over internet privacy when compared to millennials without children.  And as their privacy concerns increase, so does their likelihood to identify with conservatives.

Democrats have long been seen as continuing to increase the government’s reach in the average American’s daily life, and this is equally true over basic privacy matters.  California, historically a good barometer of national trends in politics, recently saw its governor veto legislation that would have curtailed the use of unmanned drones by law enforcement personnel for aerial surveillance.   The bill, sponsored by Republican Assemblyman Jeff Gorrell, would have required agencies to obtain warrants prior to utilizing the technology.  The thought of unmanned drones spying upon Americans going about their daily activities is something that troubles privacy advocates and millennials alike.  Combined with the permanence of digital footprints allowing the government to track an individual’s daily habits, the increasingly advanced “Big Brother” nature of government is starting to become a reality.  As such, millennials tend to look more favorably on the conservative message of caution with respect to big government.

Republicans, inherently skeptical of the effectiveness of expanded government, have an opportunity to connect with millennials over the issue.  As the government’s power to police the skies expands, freedom and liberty for average Americans is infringed.  The issue matters to the next generation of America’s leaders, and conservatives and millennials can increasingly find common ground upon it.

Ben Everard is an attorney and producer based in Los Angeles.