(FinalCall.com) – Civil liberties groups say plans to expand DNA collection through changes to federal and California state laws violate constitutional protections and criminalize innocent people.
Under the proposals, close relatives of arrestees in California could be asked to provide DNA evidence and under federal law any federal arrestees, either for felonies or misdemeanors, will be required to provide DNA samples.
Atty. Gen. Michael Mukasey published a proposal to amend the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005 and the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006 in April. The change directs U.S. agencies that arrest or detain individuals, or that supervise individuals facing charges, including non-U.S. citizens, to collect DNA samples.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation will analyze and enter the samples into a federal database known as the Combined DNA Index System.
In California, the DNA of anyone closely related to a suspect that has been arrested would also be stored through the expanded testing. California Atty. Gen. Edmund Brown, Jr. announced the plan April 25, saying it will help law enforcement solve crimes committed by killers and sex offenders.
“One of our concerns about this is that if you look at the criminal justice system, obviously it’s full of racial disparities against people of color,” said Atty. Michael Risher of the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California.
Currently state laboratories alert law enforcement when all 26 genetic markers of a suspect match. The change would result in alerts when just 15 markers match, which could mean investigations of innocent people who are simply related to suspects.
“Combining the expansion to the familial searches means that those persons, primarily males, will be logged in this database and their families, and we all know where this is not going to happen. This gives enormous discretion to police, who already have a lot of discretion whether or not to arrest someone,” Atty. Risher told The Final Call. The information stored in the databases would include private identification about one’s family, ancestry, diseases, predispositions to drug abuse, and other private information. If arrests don’t end with convictions, certified court records are required to remove the DNA data.
The ACLU worries America’s current mood, particularly after 911, seems to approve curbing of rights for the appearance of a bit more public safety or crime fighting.
Politicians are willing to sacrifice civil liberties and tax dollars in hopes of fighting crime, but look past the negative ramifications of their decisions, the ACLU said.
In 2004, California voters overwhelmingly passed the DNA Fingerprint, Unsolved Crime and Innocence Protection Act DNA, so they cannot entirely blame politicians. Unfortunately, advocates say, the law is growing beyond the scope voters desired. Anyone, not just criminals, can get caught up, they warn.
“I don’t think this will deter any crimes, but I think there is a place for DNA in solving crimes. It’s quite successful when applied to serious crime, but as it expands and you get more people, it becomes less useful,” Atty. Risher said.
The California plan to gather DNA in felony arrests is effective Jan. 1, 2009, but the familial or “partial match” policy took effect on May 6 during the grand opening of the Jan Bashinkski DNA Laboratory in Richmond.
According to reports, the state’s database holds more than one million DNA profiles, and more than two million samples are expected to be collected over the next five years.
At the opening ceremony, state Atty. Gen. Brown, Jr. said California’s DNA database has completed a $10 million expansion to accommodate the increased samples expected over the next 5 years as a result of changes to the law.
The public comment period for the federal rule change ends May 19, and comments may be logged via internet at www.regulations.gov.