A little-noticed amendment to the 2006 renewal of the Violence Against Women Act authorized the Justice Department to massively expand DNA collection - and the department is finalizing rules to do just that, The New York Times reports.
Under the new rules federal law enforcement will collect DNA from anyone arrested or detained, including most illegal immigrants.
Womens rights groups applauded the news.
“Obviously, the bigger the DNA database, the better,” said Lynn Parrish, the spokeswoman for the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network, based in Washington. “If this had been implemented years ago, it could have prevented many crimes. Rapists are generalists. They don’t just rape, they also murder.”
But immigrant advocates and civil libertarians are concerned that the government is overreaching by trying to collect so much DNA.
“Whereas fingerprints merely identify the person who left them,DNA profiles have the potential to reveal our physical diseases and mental disorders. It becomes intrusive when the government begins to mine our most intimate matters," Peter Neufeld, a lawyer who is a co-director of the Innocence Project, said.
“This has taken us by storm,” said Deborah Notkin, a lawyer who was president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association last year. “It’s so broad, it’s scary. It is a terrible thing to do because people are sometimes detained erroneously in the immigration system.”
Under the new law, DNA samples would be taken from any illegal immigrants who are detained and would normally be fingerprinted. That's most of the 1.2 million immigrants detained last year. And that's a lot more work for FBI analysts, as many as 250,000 to 1 million more samples to be processed, FBI officials said.
The DNA amendment has divided women’s groups between the desire for better investigations against rapists and concern for immigrants' civil liberties.
“We were stunned by the extraordinary, broad sweep of this amendment,” said Lisalyn Jacobs, vice president for government relations at Legal Momentum, a law group founded by the National Organization for Women.
“The pervasive problems of profiling in the United States will only be exacerbated by such a system,” Ms. Jacobs said, because Latino and other immigrants will be greatly over-represented in the database. She noted that the law required a court order to remove a profile from the system.
An FBI spokesman said the bureau had added robot technology to do DNA testing, but in the “worst case scenario,” where the laboratory receives one million new samples a year, “there is going to be a bottleneck.”