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DNA Sampling

The New York Times reports:

The Justice Department is completing rules to allow the collection of DNA from most people arrested or detained by federal authorities, a vast expansion of DNA gathering that will include hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, by far the largest group affected.

The new forensic DNA sampling was authorized by Congress in a little-noticed amendment to a January 2006 renewal of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides protections and assistance for victims of sexual crimes. The amendment permits DNA collecting from anyone under criminal arrest by federal authorities, and also from illegal immigrants detained by federal agents. . . .

The goal, justice officials said, is to make the practice of DNA sampling as routine as fingerprinting for anyone detained by federal agents, including illegal immigrants. Until now, federal authorities have taken DNA samples only from convicted felons.

The collection of DNA is now expanded to arrestees, whereas before it was for convicted criminals. Does the fact that it applies to arrestees–people who could be innocent of crimes–change the privacy implications? In the past, I’ve posted about whether there should be a national DNA database for everyone. The arguments made on behalf of the DNA database for arrestees and convicts could readily apply to such a broader DNA database. I wrote:

The benefits of using DNA identification are quite significant, since many people who have been wrongly convicted based on erroneous eye witness testimony (which is very unreliable) have been exonerated with DNA. Adding more DNA profiles will improve the database.

Nevertheless, I am very wary of the power the database gives the government. Since we leave trails of our DNA wherever we go, it might be possible to link particular people to particular places. That’s what is done with crime scenes, but what if the use expanded beyond crime scenes?

For those who are unconcerned about the collection of DNA for arrestees, what if the DNA database contained the DNA of all citizens? After all, if it is beneficial in investigating crime and can be extended to arrestees who are later exonerated, why not take the next step and extend it to everybody? Would this pose a problem?

Hat tip: Deven Desai

Originally Posted at Concurring Opinions

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This post was authored by Professor Daniel J. Solove, who through TeachPrivacy develops computer-based privacy training, data security training, HIPAA training, and many other forms of awareness training on privacy and security topics. Professor Solove also posts at his blog at LinkedIn. His blog has more than 1 million followers.

Professor Solove is the organizer, along with Paul Schwartz, of the Privacy + Security Forum and International Privacy + Security Forum, annual events designed for seasoned professionals.

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