US set to swell its criminal DNA database

Posted by Marcy Darnovsky April 17, 2008
Biopolitical Times
The United States is about to launch a major expansion of its forensic DNA database, the Washington Post reports today on its front page.

The proposal would allow the FBI, the Border Patrol, and other federal authorities to collect DNA samples from anyone arrested of a federal crime - even if they're not charged or convicted. This includes people detained for immigration violations, however briefly.

How many new DNA samples are we talking about? An official estimate puts the number at 1.2 million each year. Of those, about 140,000 would be people arrested for federal crimes; many of the rest would be people detained for being in the country illegally. The US currently has the largest forensic DNA database in the world, with almost 6 million samples.

"Innocent people don't belong in a so-called criminal database. We're crossing a line," said Tania Simoncelli, of the ACLU's Technology and Liberty Project (and former CGS staffer). Simoncelli warned that "if the samples are kept, they could one day be analyzed for sensitive information such as diseases and ancestry."

Civil rights and racial justice advocates have been warning for years [1, 2] that racial biases in the police and criminal justice systems mean that forensic databases will disproportionately target people of color.

Immigration rights advocates are also alarmed, pointing out that "most illegal immigrants are detained for administrative violations, not federal crimes." The new policy "casts them all as criminals," said the National Lawyers Guild's Paromita Shah.

The Washington Post article is accumulating a storm of comments; their tone tends heavily toward outrage.

Previously on Biopolitical Times