FBI to Expand Collection of DNA Evidence

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New York—Previously, only convicted criminals have been tracked using DNA by the federal government. The FBI, however, is beginning to expand the databases of DNA information to include people who have been detained or arrested, but not convicted. Those who are awaiting trial, as well as detained immigrants, can now expect to have DNA samples taken and stored.

The expansion is meant to aid in solving crimes, and in exonerating those who have been wrongly convicted. Law enforcement spokespersons say that DNA evidence has helped to free innocent people in more than 200 cases.

DNA extraction, claim officials, is no different than fingerprinting, which is routinely done at booking after an arrest. Since DNA evidence is so much more accurate than other physical evidence, any risks involving personal liberty are outweighed by the benefits of the technology.

Currently 15 states collect DNA evidence from people who are awaiting trial. The information goes into a database, against which evidence found at future crime scenes can be checked.

Opponents, however, contest that this move may violate the time-honored right of Americans to be considered innocent until proven guilty. Although states claim to discard DNA evidence once people are acquitted or no longer under suspicion, attorneys say that this process is a long and difficult one which requires a court order – not a matter of routine housekeeping.

Sixteen states have laws allowing DNA to be taken from those who are guilty of misdemeanors. Minors are required to give samples of DNA upon conviction in 35 states. Some states even require DNA from minors upon arrest. Currently, there is a constitutional challenge to this policy, brought by three minors. The case is continuing.

Courts have traditionally backed laws that compel the collection of DNA material from convicts, stating that people relinquish some privacy rights upon conviction for a crime. Yet a recent Congressional study finds that the legal implications of expanding this DNA collection have not yet been fully considered by law enforcement officials.

Criminal justice experts argue that the FBI’s collection of DNA data will endanger citizens’ privacy, which is guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment, amid growing concerns that Americans are subject to more stringent surveillance – in this case, genetic surveillance.

The FBI currently has a database of 6.7 million DNA profiles. It plans to increase this number by 1.2 million per year in the next three years. As a result, processing backlogs – which now stand at over half a million cases – are also expected to increase.

 

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