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FBI And States Expand Collection Of DNA To The Innocent

DNA collection is expanding to individuals arrested or detained as state and federal law enforcement officials seek to solve more crimes.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) joined 15 states in April 2009 that collect DNA from individuals awaiting trial. In addition, the FBI will now collect DNA from detained illegal immigrants.

The move toward greater DNA collection comes following numerous court decisions upholding the collection of DNA from prisoners and persons on probation, parole, or supervised release.

The FBI’s DNA registry, CODIS, currently has 6.7 million profiles. With the expansion of DNA collection to arrestees and those awaiting trial, some 1.2 million new entries are expected by 2012. This is a 17-fold increase from the 80,000 entries the FBI currently processes annually. An already 500,000 entry backlog is expected to get longer--dramatically.

While law enforcement officials claim inclusion of innocent people in DNA databases will help solve more violent crimes, the Americans Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other privacy advocates cite Fourth Amendment concerns.

“What we object to--and what the Constitution prohibits--is the indiscriminate taking of DNA for things like writing an insufficient funds check, shoplifting, [and] drug convictions,” said Michael Risher, a lawyer for the ACLU.

Aside from privacy concerns, there are the difficulties associated with removing individuals from DNA databases who have been cleared of wrongdoing. According to most lawyers, a court order is required. Interestingly, the FBI has never received a request to remove anyone from its database.

Perhaps most alarming of law enforcement’s increased collection efforts, though, is the potential for increased racial disparity in an already disparate criminal justice system. According to Hank Greely, a Stanford University Law School professor who studies genetics, policing, and race, African-Americans make up 40 percent of DNA profiles in CODIS, the federal database, although they represent only 12 percent of the national population. And Latinos, 13 percent of the population, are expected to overtake African-Americans soon. Last year, 40 percent of federal offenses were committed by Latinos, almost half for immigration crimes.

Most law enforcement like Rock Harmon, a former prosecutor, take the stance that “if you haven’t done anything wrong you have nothing to fear.” While there are many faults with this line of reasoning, foremost is its premise--that government has a right to take DNA from its citizens--especially the innocent--in the first instance. It does not.

Source: New York Times

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