Sunday, April 19, 2009

FBI Expanding DNA Database to Include Suspects

The New York Times article today by Solomon Moore reports on a plan by the FBI to expand their shared DNA database by including DNA samples from people arrested or detained as suspects but not yet convicted. Currently 15 states collect DNA from that class of people as well as from immigrants who have been detained. Up until now, the federal agency has been reluctant to expand collection due to concerns about Fourth Amendment "Search and Seizure" issues, and privacy concerns.

Law enforcement officials say that expanding the DNA databanks to include legally innocent people will help solve more violent crimes. They point out that DNA has helped convict thousands of criminals and has exonerated more than 200 wrongfully convicted people.

But criminal justice experts cite Fourth Amendment privacy concerns and worry that the nation is becoming a genetic surveillance society.

“DNA databases were built initially to deal with violent sexual crimes and homicides — a very limited number of crimes,” said Harry Levine, a professor of sociology at City University of New York who studies policing trends. “Over time more and more crimes of decreasing severity have been added to the database. Cops and prosecutors like it because it gives everybody more information and creates a new suspect pool.”

Courts have generally upheld laws authorizing compulsory collection of DNA from convicts and ex-convicts under supervised release, on the grounds that criminal acts diminish privacy rights.

DNA extraction upon arrest potentially erodes that argument, a recent Congressional study found. “Courts have not fully considered legal implications of recent extensions of DNA-collection to people whom the government has arrested but not tried or convicted,” the report said.

Minors are required to provide DNA samples in 35 states upon conviction, and in some states upon arrest. Three juvenile suspects in November filed the only current constitutional challenge against taking DNA at the time of arrest. The judge temporarily stopped DNA collection from the three youths, and the case is continuing.
Read the complete article, which is excellent, and has good links online. This should be an interesting controversy to follow.

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