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Adding More Hay to the DNA Haystack

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April 21, 2008

Last Friday, the Justice Department released proposed regulations to implement the DNA Fingerprint Act of 2005, which allows the federal government to collect and permanently store DNA samples from anyone arrested for a federal crime, and from any non-U.S. person detained by federal authorities. The act passed as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act Reauthorization of 2005.

So even if you’re just arrested – and who knows how many arrests that never lead to convictions take place across the country every single day – the Feds can now take your DNA, no matter how minor the crime. If you’re not a U.S. citizen, no need to stand on ceremony – your DNA can be taken the next time you’re stopped at JFK. The rule is similar to what New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg proposed back in January, and is exactly what the ACLU has been warning against for a long time: that the potential inclusion of innocent people’s DNA in CODIS signals a major erosion of privacy rights, transforming what was originally intended as a criminal database into an all-inclusive database of very private information on as many citizens as possible.

And if the threat to privacy wasn’t enough, the irony slays us: the sheer volume of DNA samples and profiles to be collected and uploaded to CODIS – projected at more than 1 million per year once these new rules take effect – will create a massive backlog in the system, as it takes several manhours just to turn a DNA sample into a usable DNA profile. That 20 percent increase per year in profiles will potentially stall any benefit to public safety for the foreseeable future.

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