Posted by Osagie K. Obasogie on October 16th, 2009
From its unusual property tax laws to creating a $3 billion dollar program for biotech companies pursuing stem cell research, California is well-known for having an initiative system that allows voters to amend the state constitution. One of the least discussed yet no less profound examples of this is Proposition 69, which voters passed in 2004 to allow police to take DNA samples from people merely arrested for (but not convicted of) felonies.
Prop. 69’s arrestee provision did not go into effect until earlier this year. It marks a radical expansion of the government’s power to indefinitely retain intimate information about citizens – many of whom may have done nothing more than be accused of committing a crime. The ACLU of Northern California recently filed a lawsuit to stop the collection of DNA from arrestees. They oppose this measure “because it violates constitutional guarantees of privacy and freedom from unreasonable search and seizure, and because of the harmful impact on communities of color.”
Micheal Risher, an ACLU attorney, recently debated this issue on KQED Forum (a Northern California NPR station) with Kara Dansky, Executive Director of the Stanford Criminal Justice Center, and Michael Rushford, President of the Criminal Justice Legal Foundation. Click the below to hear the discussion.
Also check out Chapter 3 of the CGS report Playing the Gene Card? for a more detailed look at the science and ethics of arrestee sampling and other issues connected to DNA forensics.