ACLU Urges Attorney General to Adopt Panel's Opposition to Mass DNA Testing

July 6, 1999 12:00 am

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Tuesday, July 6, 1999

NEW YORK — The American Civil Liberties Union applauds the recommendation of a federal panel to oppose the expanded use of DNA tests on everyone who is arrested, and we join the panel in urging Attorney General Janet Reno to adopt this policy.

Last March, Reno asked the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence to study the legality of taking DNA samples from everyone arrested instead of just the convicted sex offenders and violent felons as currently permitted by law.

In testimony before the commission, I urged the commissioners to consider the dangers to civil liberties such a proposal raises and also pointed out the impracticality of collecting DNA from the more than 15 million people who are arrested each year.

But while the commission reportedly based its recommendations on the current impracticality of mass DNA testing, it did not address the crucial civil liberties issues. The ACLU urges the commission to give the constitutional questions serious consideration at its next meeting on July 25.

The ACLU continues to believe that the wholesale collection of DNA from people who are arrested — many of whom will never be convicted of any crime — is an intrusive, unreasonable search made without the individualized suspicion required by the Fourth Amendment and similar state laws. To find otherwise is to equate arrest with guilt and to empower police officers, rather than judges and juries, to force people to provide evidence that harbors many of their most intimate secrets as well as those of their blood relatives.

Given the rapid growth of technology, the practicality problems with testing may be solved in the next few years. But the constitutional problems with mass DNA testing will remain for as long as this country calls itself a democracy.

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