Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. didn’t hesitate last fall when a questioner asked him about the biggest constitutional challenge the Supreme Court faced.

Roberts told the audience at Rice University in Houston that the court must identify “the fundamental principle underlying what constitutional protection is and apply it to new issues and new technology.” He said, “I think that is going to be the real challenge for the next 50 years.”

The court has started the process, of course. In the recently completed term, a majority said technological advances in how quickly warrants may be obtained mean that in most cases police officers must obtain one before forcing a suspected drunk driver to take a blood test.

And, over a sharply worded dissent from Justice Antonin Scalia, the court went a long way toward endorsing DNA testing as the modern-day equivalent of fingerprinting. It approved of Maryland’s law that allows police to take DNA swabs at the time someone is arrested for — not convicted of — a major violent crime.

Now, amid a national debate over how much the government should be able to find out about the private activities of its citizens in the name of combating terrorism, the next issue seems teed up for Supreme Court review:


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