According to The Washington Times, on Jan. 9, 2009 the federal government will begin collecting DNA samples from anyone arrested on federal charges or immigrants detained by the Homeland Security Dept. Currently, federal policy requires that DNA samples get collected only if the arrestees are convicted of the crimes. The new policy would add an estimated 1.2 million samples to the 6.2 million DNA samples currently maintained in the FBI convicted defender database. Thirteen states already have laws that require DNA samples from all arrestees, and under this change, an estimated 140,000 additional felony arrests will occur under these new guidelines. However, the bulk of the samples are expected from the illegal immigrants detained by the Homeland Security Dept. Records show that Border Patrol and other agencies detained approximately 1.2 million immigrants in 2006.
Instituted with the approval of Congress in a Dec 2005 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, the policy aims to prevent crime. Sen. John Kyl, a republican from Arizona who sponsored the legislation stated, “We know from past experience that collecting DNA at arrest or deportation will prevent rapes and murders that otherwise would have been committed.” He cites as an example Arizona’s “Chandler rapist,” an illegal immigrant arrested in January after a suspected 6 sexual assaults on teenage girls and young mothers. Had his DNA been collected in 2003 when he was deported, Mr. Kyl suggests, the perpetrator could have been arrested early in the crime spree.
In response to claims by ACLU complaints that the new policy would punish people not yet convicted of crimes and infringe on the rights of individuals, the Justice Dept. denies privacy rights would be violated by this expansion of DNA collection laws. According to Evan Peterson, Justice Dept. spokesperson, “DNA samples and profiles in the system are subject to stringent privacy protections, reinforced and secured through numerous safeguards to ensure that the information in the system is used only for proper law enforcement identification purposes.” In contrast, Michael T. Risher, ACLU staff lawyer contends that the government has allowed its database to be used in ways that go far beyond what was originally envisioned. He cites instances where law enforcement agencies use the database matches to track down family members whose DNA is similar to crime-scene biological evidence in hope they will then name the suspect.