Will Your DNA Soon Be in a Government Database?

Americans (and citizens of other democracies) have long resisted the concept of a national identity card. Despite the widespread use of social security numbers as identifiers and the Bush administration's rabid support of Real ID, American citizens who do not drive or fly or work can get by without carrying a mandated identification document.

Will DNA databases make the fear of a national identity card obsolete?

©riminal justice experts ... worry that the nation is becoming a genetic surveillance society.

States routinely take DNA samples from convicted felons. Some states have started to collect DNA from individuals convicted of misdemeanors and from minors. Even more disturbing is the latest trend in privacy violations: DNA collection upon arrest, from individuals who are presumed innocent. The FBI has adopted that practice and expects a 17-fold increase in the size of its database by 2012. {more ...]

“DNA databases were built initially to deal with violent sexual crimes and homicides — a very limited number of crimes,” said Harry Levine, a professor of sociology at City University of New York who studies policing trends. “Over time more and more crimes of decreasing severity have been added to the database. Cops and prosecutors like it because it gives everybody more information and creates a new suspect pool.”

Courts have generally upheld laws authorizing compulsory collection of DNA from convicts and ex-convicts under supervised release, on the grounds that criminal acts diminish privacy rights.

DNA extraction upon arrest potentially erodes that argument, a recent Congressional study found. “Courts have not fully considered legal implications of recent extensions of DNA-collection to people whom the government has arrested but not tried or convicted,” the report said.

The philosophical question that drives policy is complex: Do Americans have a fundamental right to protect the privacy of their own identities? Birth and death certificates are public records, and the fact of our individual existence is in that sense public, not private. Yet Americans expect to exercise some control over the selective decision to disclose (or not) their identities to others, if only to prevent identity theft.

Whether or not to contribute our DNA to a government-controlled database is a decision most of us would like to make for ourselves. Apart from its utility as an identifier, our genetic makeup reveals an enormous amount of information about ourselves that isn't the government's business. After the nation's recent experience with a Republican president, only the foolish trust the government not to misuse the data it collects.

The trend needs to stop before the government requires newborn babies to submit DNA samples.

As more police agencies take DNA for a greater variety of lesser and suspected crimes, civil rights advocates say the government’s power is becoming too broadly applied. “What we object to — and what the Constitution prohibits — is the indiscriminate taking of DNA for things like writing an insufficient funds check, shoplifting, drug convictions,” said Michael Risher, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Not to mention taking DNA from innocent people who are falsely accused.

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    I'll eat a fair share... (none / 0) (#1)
    by kdog on Sun Apr 19, 2009 at 08:46:13 AM EST
    of sh*t from the state out of convenience and to avoid extended hassles, but I draw the line at DNA collection and storage...too scary and invasive to let slide.  

    Next time I get arrested I'll fight the swab or the needle if the state tries to stick me or swab me...I'll deal with the stint in a holding cell, the chains, the fines...but my gentic code is mine, non-negotiable.  I'll kick and scream and punch and scratch and get my arse beat to a pulp to keep my DNA out of their greasy fingers.

    typical law enforcement bs (none / 0) (#2)
    by txpublicdefender on Sun Apr 19, 2009 at 08:53:57 AM EST
    Sure.  You may have only been arrested for driving with a suspended license, but that doesn't mean the government shouldn't have your entire genetic code!  It's no different than taking your fingerprints, don't you know?  And, of course, if it turns out you're not guilty, then your profile will be deleted.  Trust them--they're the FBI!

    Also, it always fascinates me when people say, "Hey, Great Britain is doing it, so it's fine!"  As if they have a great track record of upholding individual liberties against the power of the state.

    Finally, that article concludes with the old law enforcement catch-all whenever they're trampling over your rights:

    Rock Harmon, a former prosecutor for Alameda County, Calif., and an adviser to crime laboratories, said DNA demographics reflected the criminal population. Even if an innocent man's DNA was included in a genetic database, he said, it would come to nothing without a crime scene sample to match it. "If you haven't done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear," he said.

    Isn't that the same gobbledygook they say (none / 0) (#5)
    by easilydistracted on Sun Apr 19, 2009 at 11:16:19 AM EST
    about submitting to a lie-detector test? Right...we know how reliable that test is (tongue firmly in cheek, by the way).

    They've already stolen mine. (none / 0) (#3)
    by Ben Masel on Sun Apr 19, 2009 at 10:34:57 AM EST
    I flew United, Milwaukee>Ohare>Austin for the Netroots Nation last summer.

    Landing, 2 bags out of 66 passengers were not on the carousel, mine and pastor Agnostic's. We were told they'd been mistakenly sent to Scranton, would be delivered to out hotel around midnight. Actually arrived 4:00 the next afternoon, with 2 pieces of tape, one from TSA, and another from Homeland Security. Missing, my hairbrush, and Ms. Agnostic's scarf.

    As I connect the dots, when our dossiers were run, an alert HSA drone noticed empty datafields for our DNA. No longer empty.

    I'd say you're kidding but I know you're not. (none / 0) (#4)
    by Angel on Sun Apr 19, 2009 at 10:48:46 AM EST

    Worrisome for me (none / 0) (#6)
    by waldenpond on Sun Apr 19, 2009 at 11:29:00 AM EST
    Apparently birth certificates are not required, nor are death certificats.  If it were, I imagine it would be used against the Mormon fringe.

    I feel like a nutjob conspiracy theorist, but what is worrisome for me, is that the private sector has already more than broken ground on this with research studies for illness.   Wojcicki and Google's Brin.  Friggin' Google.

    Also, watched MSNBC several months ago and a guy from the best known computer geek magazine (can't recall the name right now) and he discussed the codes on our electronics.  The companies willingly provided the technology.  Individual printers have a code that prints a strip on the back of your paper. They got you.  Upload pictures from your camera and phone?  Gotcha.

    They are working hard to break the code that shows the expanded 'properties' that come with electronics so they can be overcome.  They haven't been able to break the code on HP printers which I wrote a check for, nor Canon cameras which I wrote a check for.  From now on, I will be going to other cities, paying cash (until they eliminate cash) and faking my personal info cause it's no one's friggin' business.

    Just think, I could have an ID card that serves as the means of travel, payment, and has DNA instead of fingerprints.  It's good for me, it will make my life simpler.  Shouldn't I have mandatory DNA testing with my new health care package as part of developing our 'best practices'?... yeah, that's a great idea, it's good for me.

    I am sure this will be handled (none / 0) (#8)
    by Jlvngstn on Sun Apr 19, 2009 at 03:07:45 PM EST
    with as much check and balance as FISA.  

    Racial disparity in arrest rates (none / 0) (#9)
    by Peter G on Sun Apr 19, 2009 at 04:28:49 PM EST
    ... which is even greater than that seen in convictions and sentencing, means disparate impact of DNA collection from arrestees, also.

    Of course law enforcement (none / 0) (#10)
    by AX10 on Sun Apr 19, 2009 at 07:58:51 PM EST
    is all for this.
    Law enforcement as a whole does not understand the Constitution.  We do have certain privacy rights.

    Am I the only one who picked up on this? (none / 0) (#11)
    by Patrick on Sun Apr 19, 2009 at 10:13:54 PM EST
    American citizens who do not drive or fly or work can get by without carrying a mandated identification document.

    Can't imagine that cohort is very big.  

    The ultimate innocence project! (none / 0) (#12)
    by diogenes on Mon Apr 20, 2009 at 11:33:30 AM EST
    If everyone's DNA is in a working database then a lot of people will be freed because the "real criminals" will be found.