[Ppnews] DNA Databases are Coming

Political Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Sun Jun 4 16:19:47 EDT 2006


From: <mailto:brentmesick at yahoo.com>Brent Mesick


A DNA database of all US citizens was proposed 
under PATRIOT II, the legislation that would have 
strengthened the Patriot Act and weakened civil 
rights. PATRIOT II was leaked, the country 
outraged and the legislation pulled. Now, it 
appears as if it's being re-proposed little by little.

The House has passed the Children's Safety and 
Violent Crime Reduction Act, which allows 
voluntarily provided DNA to be captured 
permanently in a DNA profile stored by the gov't. 
The gov't would be allowed to take DNA samples 
from people not charged or arrested - just detained.


Vast DNA Bank Pits Policing Vs. Privacy
Data Stored on 3 Million Americans
By Rick Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 3, 2006; A01

Brimming with the genetic patterns of more than 3 
million Americans, the nation's databank of DNA 
"fingerprints" is growing by more than 80,000 
people every month, giving police an 
unprecedented crime-fighting tool but prompting 
warnings that the expansion threatens constitutional privacy protections.
With little public debate, state and federal 
rules for cataloging DNA have broadened in recent 
years to include not only violent felons, as was 
originally the case, but also perpetrators of 
minor crimes and even people who have been arrested but not convicted.

Now some in law enforcement are calling for a 
national registry of every American's DNA 
profile, against which police could instantly 
compare crime-scene specimens. Advocates say the 
system would dissuade many would-be criminals and help capture the rest.

"This is the single best way to catch bad guys 
and keep them off the street," said Chris Asplen, 
a lawyer with the Washington firm Smith Alling 
Lane and former executive director of the 
National Commission on the Future of DNA 
Evidence. "When it's applied to everybody, it is 
fair, and frankly you wouldn't even know it was going on."
But opponents say that the growing use of DNA 
scans is making suspects out of many law-abiding 
Americans and turning the "innocent until proven guilty" maxim on its head.

"These databases are starting to look more like a 
surveillance tool than a tool for criminal 
investigation," said Tania Simoncelli of the 
American Civil Liberties Union in New York.

The debate is part of a larger, post-Sept. 11 tug 
of war between public safety and personal privacy 
that has intensified amid recent revelations that 
the government has been collecting information on 
personal phone calls. In particular, it is about 
the limits of the Fourth Amendment, which 
protects people from being swept into criminal 
investigations unless there is good reason to suspect they have broken the law.

Once someone's DNA code is in the federal 
database, critics say, that person is effectively 
treated as a suspect every time a match with a 
crime-scene specimen is sought -- even though 
there is no reason to believe that the person committed the crime.

At issue is not only how many people's DNA is on 
file but also how the material is being used. In 
recent years, for example, crime fighters have 
initiated "DNA dragnets" in which hundreds or 
even thousands of people were asked to submit 
blood or tissue samples to help prove their innocence.

Also stirring unease is the growing use of 
"familial searches," in which police find 
crime-scene DNA that is similar to the DNA of a 
known criminal and then pursue that criminal's 
family members, reasoning that only a relative 
could have such a similar pattern. Critics say 
that makes suspects out of people just for being related to a convict.

Such concerns are amplified by fears that, in 
time, authorities will try to obtain information 
from stored DNA beyond the unique personal identifiers.

"Genetic material is a very powerful identifier, 
but it also happens to carry a heck of a lot of 
information about you," said Jim Harper, director 
of information policy at the Cato Institute, a 
libertarian think tank in Washington concerned about DNA database trends.

Law enforcement officials say they have no 
interest in reading people's genetic secrets. The 
U.S. profiling system focuses on just 13 small 
regions of the DNA molecule -- regions that do 
not code for any known biological or behavioral 
traits but vary enough to give everyone who is 
not an identical twin a unique 52-digit number.
"It's like a Social Security number, but not 
assigned by the government," said Michael Smith, 
a University of Wisconsin law professor who 
favors a national database of every American's 
genetic ID with certain restrictions.

Still, the blood, semen or cheek-swab specimen 
that yields that DNA, and which authorities 
almost always save, contains additional genetic 
information that is sensitive, including disease 
susceptibilities that could affect employment and 
health insurance prospects and, in some cases, 
surprises about who a child's father is.
"We don't know all the potential uses of DNA, but 
once the state has your sample and there are not 
limits on how it can be used, then the potential 
civil liberty violations are as vast as the uses 
themselves," said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts.

She and others want samples destroyed once the 
identifying profile has been extracted, but the FBI favors preserving them.

Sometimes authorities need access to those 
samples to make sure an old analysis was done 
correctly, said Thomas Callaghan, who oversees 
the FBI database. The agency also wants to be 
able to use new DNA identification methods on 
older samples as the science improves.

Without that option, Callaghan said, "you'd be 
freezing the database to today's technology."

Crime-Fighting Uses

Over the past dozen years, the FBI-managed 
national database has made more than 30,000 "cold 
hits," or exact matches to a known person's DNA, 
showing its crime-fighting potential.

In a recent case, a Canadian woman flew home the 
day after she was sexually assaulted in Mexico. 
Canadian authorities performed a semen DNA 
profile and, after finding no domestic matches, 
consulted the FBI database. The pattern matched 
that of a California man on probation, who was 
promptly found in the Mexican town where the 
woman had been staying and was charged by local authorities.

Congress authorized the FBI database precisely 
for cases like that, on the rationale that sexual 
predators and other violent felons tend to be 
repeat offenders and are likely to leave DNA 
behind. In recent years, however, Congress and 
state legislators have vastly extended the system's reach.

At least 38 states now have laws to collect DNA 
from people found guilty of misdemeanors, in some 
cases for such crimes as shoplifting and 
fortunetelling. At least 28 now collect from 
juvenile offenders, too, according to information 
presented last month at a Boston symposium on DNA 
and civil liberties, organized by the American 
Society of Law, Medicine and Ethics.

The federal government and five states, including 
Virginia, go further, allowing DNA scans of 
people arrested. At least four other states plan 
to do so this year, and California will start in 2009.

Opponents of the growing inclusion of people 
arrested note that a large proportion of charges 
(fully half for felony assaults) are eventually 
dismissed. Blood specimens are not destroyed 
automatically when charges are dropped, they 
note, and the procedures for getting them expunged are not simple.

Even more controversial are DNA dragnets, which 
snare many people for whom there is no evidence 
of guilt. Given questions about whether such 
sweeps can be truly voluntary -- "You know that 
whoever doesn't participate is going to become a 
'person of interest,' " said Rose of the ACLU -- 
some think they violate the Fourth Amendment.
Civil liberties issues aside, the sweeps rarely 
pay off, according to a September 2004 study by 
Samuel Walker, a criminology professor at the 
University of Nebraska. Of the 18 U.S. DNA 
dragnets he documented since 1990, including one 
in which police tested 2,300 people, only one 
identified the offender. And that one was limited 
to 25 men known to have had access to the victim, 
who was attacked while incapacitated in a nursing home.

Dragnets, Walker concluded, "are highly 
unproductive" and "possibly unconstitutional."

Familial searches of the blood relatives of known 
offenders raise similar issues. The method can 
work: In a recent British case, police retrieved 
DNA from a brick that was thrown from an overpass 
and smashed through a windshield, killing the 
driver. A near-match of that DNA with someone in 
Britain's criminal database led police to 
investigate that offender's relatives, one of 
whom confessed when confronted with the evidence.

Not investigating such leads "would be like 
getting a partial license plate number on a 
getaway car and saying, 'Well, you didn't get the 
whole plate so we're not going to investigate the 
crime,' " said Frederick Bieber, a Harvard 
geneticist who studies familial profiling.

But such profiling stands to exacerbate already 
serious racial inequities in the U.S. criminal 
justice system, said Troy Duster, a sociologist at New York University.

"Incarceration rates are eight times higher for 
blacks than they are for whites," he said, so any 
technique that focuses on relatives of people in 
the FBI database will just expand that trend.

A Universal Database?

That's a concern that many in law enforcement 
raise, too -- as an argument in favor of creating 
a universal DNA database of all Americans. The 
system would make everyone a suspect of sorts in 
every crime, they acknowledge. But every 
criminal, regardless of race, would be equally likely to get caught.

Opponents cite a litany of potential problems, 
including the billions it would cost to profile 
so many people and the lack of lab capacity to handle the specimens.

Backlogs are already severe, they note. The 
National Institute of Justice estimated in 2003 
that more than 350,000 DNA samples from rape and 
homicide cases were waiting to be processed 
nationwide. As of the end of last year, more than 
250,000 samples were backlogged in California alone.

And delays can matter. In 2004, police in Indiana 
arrested a man after his DNA matched samples from 
dozens of rapes -- the last 13 of which were 
committed during the two years it took for the 
sample to get through the backlog.

A big increase in tests would also generate more 
mistakes, said William C. Thompson, a professor 
of criminology, law and society at the University 
of California at Irvine, whose studies have found 
DNA lab accuracy to be "very uneven."

In one of many errors documented by Thompson, a 
years-old crime-scene specimen was found to match 
the DNA from a juvenile offender, leading police 
to suspect the teenager until they realized he 
was a baby at the time of the crime. The 
teenager's blood, it turned out, had been 
processed in the lab the same day as an older 
specimen was being analyzed, and one contaminated the other.

"A universal database will bring us more wrongful 
arrests and possibly more wrongful convictions," said Simoncelli of the ACLU.

But Asplen of Smith Alling Lane said Congress has 
been helping states streamline and improve their 
DNA processing. And he does not think a national 
database would violate the Constitution.
"We already take blood from every newborn to 
perform government-mandated tests . . . so the 
right to take a sample has already been decided," 
Asplen said. "And we have a precedent for the 
government to maintain an identifying number of a person."

While the debate goes on, some in Congress are 
working to expand the database a bit more. In 
March, the House passed the Children's Safety and Violent Crime Reduction Act.

Under the broad-ranging bill, DNA profiles 
provided voluntarily, for example, in a dragnet, 
would for the first time become a permanent part 
of the national database. People arrested would 
lose the right to expunge their samples if they 
were exonerated or charges were dropped. And the 
government could take DNA from citizens not arrested but simply detained.

The bill must be reconciled with a Senate, which 
contains none of those provisions.
© 2006 The Washington Post Company


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