October 2, 2019

NEW YORK — The Trump administration is reportedly planning to dramatically expand DNA collection of immigrants. It appears the collection will occur not only at the southern border, but also in other detention contexts that implicate long-standing residents, with known identities, in the United States.

Below is comment from Vera Eidelman, staff attorney with the ACLU's Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, in response:

“Forced DNA collection raises serious privacy and civil liberties concerns and lacks justification, especially when DHS is already using less intrusive identification methods like fingerprinting. Our DNA not only reveals deeply personal information about us, but also information about our relatives. This means the administration’s racist immigration policies will also implicate the rights of family members in other countries and family members here, including American citizens. This kind of mass collection alters the purpose of DNA collection from one of criminal investigation to population surveillance, which is contrary to our basic notions of freedom and autonomy.

"Moreover, we must consider the full scope of the government’s asserted powers when it collects such deeply sensitive, personal, identifying information about us and on such a massive scale. What if the government used the genetic information it collects to determine access to employment, our ability to have kids or get married, and other benefits? What if individuals are barred from entering the country based on their propensity for certain medical conditions? What if the government decides it wants to know the identity of every person who attends a protest and so collects the DNA from all water bottles and cigarette butts left behind and matches them to profiles in this database? 

"We should hope that these are unlikely hypotheticals, but they're not far-fetched considering the government's long history of engaging in wrongful behavior towards people based on their genetic composition — from forcing sterilizations to prohibiting marriages to refusing to allow healthy individuals to engage in Air Force training."

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