Push for huge DNA database

Several states are pushing towards the creation of massive DNA databases by permitting DNA sampling of people when they are arrested - before they're convicted. Civil libertarians are complaining that "innocent until proven guilty" is given way to "suspected even if never proven guilty."

Several states are pushing towards the creation of massive DNA databases by permitting DNA sampling of people when they are arrested - before they're convicted, Stateline.org reports. Civil libertarians are complaining that "innocent until proven guilty" is given way to "suspected even if never proven guilty."

While most states collect DNA from sex offenders and a number collect from serious felons, five states – California, Louisiana, Minnesota, Texas and Virginia – take DNA samples from some arrestees as well. Kansas and New Mexico will begin arrestee sampling next year. Louisiana allows sampling of those arrested for some misdemeanors, including prostitution and assault.

President Bush signed the DNA Fingerprinting Act, which allows authorities to collect DNA “fingerprints,” or samples, from anyone arrested on any federal charge. Law enforcement supports the database, saying DNA sampling of convicted felons has been aided thousands of investigations, according to the FBI.

In Virginia, one of the few states to release records of arrestee “hits,” or DNA matches, law enforcement officials found 288 matches that have helped crime investigations since the program began in January 2003, said Paul Ferrara, director of the state’s Department of Forensic Science. Fifty-nine of those were associated with sexual crimes, he said.

Now those five states are uploading DNA profiles into the federal database, even though federal sampling hasn't started yet. Virginia uploaded 4,000 profiles of arrestees in June and Louisiana recently uploaded 14,000 profiles.

Civil libertarians are concerned that controls are weak on the use of this data. For instance, if someone is arrested and acquitted, her DNA profile should not be kept in a criminal database. But arrestees in California, Louisiana, New Mexico and federally have the burden of requesting their samples be removed from labs and databases. Kansas flat-out refuses to remove records.

Joe Cook, executive director of the Louisiana ACLU, said there is “no reason” for states to keep DNA samples after acquittal. The practice turns arrestees into “a suspect every time a crime is committed,” he said. “The potential for abuse is great,” Cook said.

Kansas state Rep. Pat Colloton (R), who authored the bill that initiated her state’s DNA sampling program, said she expects crime rates to decrease as a result of the legislation. But she also anticipates legal challenges to arrestee sampling across the country.

“I do believe this issue will go to the United States Supreme Court,” Colloton said.

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