In the dreams of law enforcement, police are able to check instantly DNA at a crime scene against a vast, complete catalog of individuals to solve crimes quickly and cleanly. The only problem is that kind of invasion of privacy would only happen in a science fiction movie, right?
For several years, law enforcement and legislatures have toyed with the idea of collecting and permanently storing DNA samples from Americans who have not been convicted of any crime, despite concerns about government abuse, practicality and unconstitutionality, .
After watching too many episodes of CSI, misguided Michigan lawmakers introduced Senate Bill 1345 and 1346, which would create a forensic DNA database that would store the DNA of anyone arrested (not convicted!) for a felony.
This legislation is a bad, bad idea. We oppose this legislation for many reasons, starting with the fact it would legislate an invasion of innocent people's privacy and an intolerable violation of the Fourth Amendment.
- Innocent people do not belong in a criminal databank. Many people who are arrested won’t be charged with a crime, let alone convicted. That's why the collection and permanent retention of DNA from arrestees is an unconstitutional search. Basically, these bills would ignore the basic presumption of “innocent until proven guilty,” requiring that law-enforcement put innocent people into a massive criminal databank. Once in this databank, those individuals will be susceptible to false positive matches and indefinite searching, even though they have done nothing wrong.
- DNA contains more private information than a fingerprint. DNA is not like a mug shot or the patterns of a fingerprint – it contains incredible amounts of genetic information. Private, personal information about your family history, your suceptibility to disease, and much more detailed information can be drawn from your DNA sample. None of this should be taken out of your control and made available to the police or government. Should this legislation pass, there should be wide concern that once an individual’s DNA sample is taken, that sample could be misused: used for research, stolen by identity thieves, or manipulated by law enforcement.
- Massive databases of DNA won't make us any safer. The real world isn't like CSI or Law & Order: DNA is only found at a small fraction of crime scenes. No matter how many people they put in a DNA databank, only a tiny amount of cases will ever be solved with that tool. The expansion of DNA collection could even undermine criminal justice, making the huge backlogs of DNA testing worse. Not only that, but DNA testing is not infallible. Mistakes can and have been made in the collection and analysis of DNA and the results have led to innocent people serving time for crimes they did not commit.
Revolutionary new technology offers us amazing opportunities...and many new dangers that erode our rights and freedoms.
When we consider giving law enforcement and the government greatly expanded powers to peer into our lives, we must make sure that these new tools are truly needed, used justly and ensure due process and meaningful oversight.
Forensic DNA databanks aren't needed, could easily be abused, and would put innocent Americans under suspicion without due process. I urge you to contact your state legislators and ask that they vote “no” on this dangerous, unconstitutional, creepy legislation.
By Merissa Kovach, Field Organizer