Imagine a world somewhat like x-man where a subset of humanity will develop 'super-powers'. Most powers are relatively minor, but a subset of them are potentially lethal, and others have the potential to be used in other criminal manner, such as theft.

To combat this problem the goverment documents and records everyone super powers in a database; for now presume the database is relatively complete and ignore the difficulty of documenting new powers. Now if Vic is found shot with lasers beams the government can know who has the ability to shoot laser beams that might be a suspect in his murder etc. However, there are concerns about police wanting to use this database purely to find out who is a mutant in order to support unfair persecution of mutants who are otherwise innocent. Thus there must be restrictions on when and how this database is accessed and how it may be used.

What are likely legal standards for use of the database to research super powers? Can police blindly ask for any mutant with lethal powers just because someone was killed in an unusual manner? Can the police check if a suspect has a potentially lethal power before arresting him for their safety? What prevents fishing expeditions to find any potential mutant powers that could be used in a case and then focusing investigations solely on those mutants?

I imagine there would be strong parallels to the requirements that are already in place for doing database searches for things like guns. However unlike with a gun it's not always clear rather a superpower is used or what power was used in a case. Since super powers tend to be a bit more unique it's also harder to classify and group them in a way that allows easy searches, you can easily say that a specific model of gun was used so let's look at those registered with that gun, it's not as easy to say someone appears to have been able to strike a witness without being seen, which power (invisibility, ranged energy blasts, telekinesis, hypnotic suggestion, etc etc) could have done this.

Assume a time and place similar to modern United States. How does the law balance the need to support law enforcement with dealing with criminals that use their powers with the need to protect the numerous innocent mutants from prosecution or unfair harassment for having powers?

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    $\begingroup$ Put it behind a warrant just like medical records. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 30, 2020 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ @John sure, but what is required to get a warrant? what is the minimum standard to justify a warrant and what things must be proven to reach that standard? $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    May 30, 2020 at 3:19
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    $\begingroup$ This is pretty much a straight up legal question without specific worldbuilding applicability. You'd probably get the best answers by stripping this query of its fictional elements and asking the basic question over on Law. Especially because your setting is essentially modern USA. If your setting were some fictional vaguely western country and you could give some legal context, then I'd say your question would be valid here in Worldbuilding. US law is rather special & unique in many ways among rule of law countries. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    May 30, 2020 at 3:32
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, this is a legal question. The degree of protection it would get is world-building, but warrants are real world. $\endgroup$
    – Mary
    May 30, 2020 at 4:35
  • $\begingroup$ do they get the unique super power since birth or it come or develop randomly like during teenager or adulthood to appear? also is it pass from parents? $\endgroup$
    – Li Jun
    May 30, 2020 at 5:22

1 Answer 1


The laws will depend on the perception of threat

Regardless of what the actual level of threat is, the standards for accessing the database will depend on how the media portrays the threats involved. When I say "threats", there are two that need to be considered here:

  1. Threat to innocent people from misuse of mutant powers.
  2. Threat to innocent (and guilty) people from (mis)use of databases.

Imagine that a mutant is attacked by a "mundane" assailant and the mutant uses his laser beam eyes to kill the mundane. Depending on the race, age, gender, religion and socioeconomic status of the two participants and the agendas of the media organisations, this may be portrayed as either:

  • Violence against the persecuted mutants by the bigoted majority; and/or
  • Violence against the poor mundanes who have no defence from the genetically privileged mutants.

If this is set in a parallel of the United States then any constitutional arguments will be given enormous weight (because the founding fathers obviously were thinking of this sort of situation when they bickered their way to the final version). The gun lobby may argue that mutant powers fall under "the right to bear arms" (and keep ignoring that inconvenient "a well regulated militia" context) - unless the mutant is anti-guns. If the mutant says that their powers come from god then the First amendment will be widely quoted in their defence (although it will backfire with certain segments if it's not "their" god).

Arguments will go back and forth in the media. The politicians will check the opinion polls to see which threat their electorate is more worried about and will instruct government lawyers to draft legislation accordingly. The legislated controls will therefore be based on the public perception of the threat, and will fall somewhere between:

  • Free access for law enforcement personnel. Similar controls to looking up a drivers licence and associated record of infringements, or matching fingerprints found at a crime scene to known offenders. Law enforcement personnel must have a legitimate reason for checking the database, but any auditing of access is done after a search, not before. (Internal Affairs will stomp hard on any officers found looking in the database for details about their Tinder hookup or equivalent misuse.)
  • Access to the database requires a warrant or special dispensation. Similar controls to some jurisdictions for seeking a DNA sample where one is not on file, for example.

In today's environment, the former is more likely. Government employees can access a frightening amount of information on people these days, not only in law enforcement but in other compliance areas relating to health, tax, immigration etc. Assuming that many mutants (even if they are the minority) will be posting clips of themselves using their powers on social media, the argument for privacy will be difficult to make. There is also the legitimate argument that in a fast-developing situation there is no time to get a warrant, the police need to know who is flinging laser blasts around now so they can work out an effective strategy to negotiate with or otherwise neutralise them. This could be recognised as a reason for open access or allowed as an exception that must be retrospectively approved.

There may also be legitimate needs for law enforcement to be able to locate mutants with particular powers in a hurry, although this could be managed by volunteers registering themselves with an emergency response organisation. For example, imagine if Magneto lived two blocks away when someone was trapped in the mangled wreck of a car, or a town threatened by a wildfire could have Storm change the wind direction so the flames were blown back over the burnt-out area and extinguished. (I may have the powers wrong, not an X-men fan.)

Summary: The sum of the media position/s will decide the controls, but it will probably be fairly open access for law enforcement.

  • $\begingroup$ I was leaning towards powers being more protected, but I see your argument. I'm thinking there may be a compromise where a number of situations are spelled out where specific unwarranted checks are allowed for emergencies, but warrants are still needed for other situations if you don't want your case through own of court, need to think that through more. I like your second to last argument, but I'm thinking that a case like that would be a second optional database, where a mutant can 'opt-in' to listing themselves as willing to offer their powers the way one opts-in to organ donation $\endgroup$
    – dsollen
    Jun 3, 2020 at 17:03

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