Amendment Attached to the Violence Against Women Act Would Invade the Privacy of Innocent Americans by Collecting and Storing their DNA

September 29, 2005 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – Calling the Violence Against Women Act one of the key laws protecting women from domestic violence and sexual assault, the American Civil Liberties Union today urged the Senate to reject an amendment, authored by Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and John Cornyn (R-TX), that would permit the government to collect and maintain DNA samples of individuals who are arrested or detained by federal authorities – even if they are not convicted, or even charged with a crime.

“A DNA sample contains our most private information – genetic codes and information about diseases,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “This extreme proposal would severely undermine continuing efforts to end the victimization of domestic violence survivors. Sadly, unless this poison pill amendment is removed from VAWA, the ACLU cannot endorse the underlying measure.”

The Kyl-Cornyn amendment was added to VAWA (S. 1197) during the committee mark-up, and was adopted on a voice vote. This amendment would add the DNA of federal arrestees, as well as the DNA of those being detained by any government agency, to the federal Combined DNA Index System. CODIS is a nationwide criminal DNA database operated by the FBI that contains the DNA profiles of individuals. Currently the database only includes persons convicted, indicted or charged with crimes. Adding the DNA of arrestees and detainees, the ACLU said, raises serious constitutional questions about whether the provision violates the Fourth Amendment.

Under the proposal, states that collect the DNA of arrestees would be allowed to include that information in the federal database. An arrestee’s DNA could only be taken out of the CODIS database if the charges are dismissed or if the person is acquitted. However, the DNA would remain in CODIS if the person is arrested, but never charged with a crime. For instance, this would affect protesters rounded up by police at recent mass demonstrations. Also, the amendment would require a person who has not been convicted and awaiting trial to submit DNA before being released before trial. The current language would apply to arrests for all federal offenses, including petty offenses such as disorderly conduct, gambling and perjury.

Also, according to Department of Justice statistics, in 2002, 124,074 people were arrested for federal offenses, and only 71,798 were convicted of crimes.

“Instead of furthering the intent of VAWA – to help victims of domestic violence and sexual assault – this amendment undermines it,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “It is an attack on our privacy, on our Fourth Amendment rights and must be removed from the underlying measure.”

To read the ACLU’s letter on the Violence Against Women Act and the Cornyn-Kyl Amendment, go to:

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