Oppose a Sweeping New Federal DNA Database
Under a new plan, the government could take your DNA and keep it on file permanently
if you are arrested at a demonstration on federal property. Take action today
to stop the government from giving itself sweeping new powers to create DNA databases.
Please read this alert for background on the plan and immediately go here and
click on the yellow "Add Comments" balloon to file public comments
with the government to oppose the plan. The government is only accepting comments
until this Monday, May 19, so take action today!
At the end of 2005, a little-noticed provision was slipped into the Violence
Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill that provided the federal government
with the power to collect and permanently keep DNA samples from anyone arrested
for any crime whether or not they are convicted, any non-U.S. citizen merely
detained by federal authorities for any reason, and everyone in federal prison.
Now the government is trying to put the DNA Fingerprint Act into practice.
Federal agencies would be required to take DNA samples from:
* Individuals arrested for the most minor of crimes, such as peaceful protestors
who are demonstrating on federal property.
* Countless numbers of visitors from other countries who are pulled aside in
airports by the Transportation Security Administration.
* Lawful immigrants seeking admission to this country, whether at the land border
or in passport control at the airport.
Go here for more information on the law.
This is a dangerous invasion of privacy. Our DNA is not a fingerprint – it
contains vast amounts of sensitive medical information about us. And Congress
held no hearings on this dangerous legislation, even though it:
* threatens the privacy of millions of Americans;
* would disproportionately affect people of color;
* and turns the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" on its
The Justice Department recently issued proposed regulations on the implementation
of the law and is seeking public comments. Go here and voice your opposition
to the federal government collecting and permanently storing our DNA. (See the
end of this email for suggested talking points.) CCR will also be submitting
extensive comments and notifying the press of this important story so the government
can’t slip their plan by without the public knowing.
Congress failed to oppose this dangerous new law – it’s up to us to let them
know that the we oppose the government collecting people’s DNA, and that we
care about our privacy. Please take action today.
CCR Executive Director
Here are some reasons to oppose this plan, which you can use in your comments:
* Innocent people do not belong in a criminal DNA database. The underlying
statute that permits this is wrong and goes against basic principles of our
* The regulations interpret the statute as broadly as possible, giving the
FBI and other federal agencies the authority to take DNA in far too wide a range
* DNA is not a fingerprint – it contains vast amounts of sensitive medical
information about us. The Justice Department’s decision not to require destruction
of the biological samples once the DNA profile is uploaded to its database exacerbates
the potential for our genetic privacy to be violated and opens the door to the
potential of familial searching.
* The regulations will add a disproportionate number of people of color to
the database, potentially making those communities an increased target for law
enforcement and further aggravating the already existing racial disparities
in the criminal justice system.
* The regulations estimate that potentially more than one million new samples
will be added to the database a year, yet the FBI’s laboratory is currently
receiving for processing only 75,000 offender samples each year. The requirement
to collect, profile and upload such a massive number of DNA samples will flood
the system and create huge backlogs, which may ultimately hinder criminal investigations,
rather than help them.
* The regulations contemplate federal agencies contracting with third parties
to collect and store DNA samples. Outsourcing the handling of this most sensitive
information to multiple collection and storage sites will almost certainly lead
to abuse, the creation of "shadow databases," and error, potentially
undermining public trust in DNA as an effective investigational tool.
Blog with more info about this outrageous program:
Feds to Collect Millions of DNA Profiles Yearly, Stay Out if You Can
By Ryan Singel
May 12, 2008
The feds will soon be collecting about one million DNA samples a year under
a new program that lets federal agents collect cheek swabs from citizens merely
arrested for any federal crime or from any non-citizen detained by federal agents
— including visitors to the country who have visas.
The intent is build a massive database of DNA samples (.pdf) that police can
use to catch rapists and murderers, but even the innocent should fear being
in the database, due to the vagaries of how cold case DNA searches can easily
pinpoint an innocent person.
Thanks to an amendment in the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 that was sponsored
by Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona), the feds now have the authority to immediately
take DNA from any arrestee or ‘detained’ non-citizen and immediately upload
it to the FBI’s CODIS database. That database is currently fed by federal law
enforcement agencies and all 50 states, a few of which collect and upload DNA
samples from people arrested, but not convicted of a crime.
DNA profiles are composed of 13 genetic markers that are meant not to reveal
genetic makeup or disease. Like fingerprints, DNA are very powerful and scientifically
sound evidence, when used to connect a known suspect to evidence found at the
scene of the crime. Jurors are easily persuaded to accept the DNA link for someone
who had already been suspected of a crime scene when told the odds against a
false identification are 1 in millions or billions.
But DNA is far less certain when you compare one sample against all of the
profiles in the database typically known as one-to-many. In that case the chances
that a match between a DNA sample — especially an incomplete one — and a person
in a DNA database could nab an innocent person has different math. Very different
So if you have a probability of 1 in 1.1 million chance of people having a
certain sequence of DNA markers and you have a database of 550,000 people, you
have a 50% chance of making a match. That’s great, if you know that the perpetrator
is in that database. But what it also means is that as you start testing DNA
profiles against more and more people, the chances that you will match an innocent
person to a DNA profile from a crime scene gets higher.
A recent L.A. Times story about a cold case prosecution of a 1972 rape and
murder in California, where 30 years later, police matched a DNA sample from
the scene to that of a convicted rapist in its 338,000 profile strong DNA database.
Given the number of markers that were used there was a one in three chance that
some profile in the database would match. In this case, it matched John Puckett,
who lived in the same city.
The jury however, wasn’t told about the probability that someone in the database
would match against the profile (The L.A. Times story erroneously says that
there was a 1/3 chance that someone innocent would be fingered in such a search.
If one knew for a fact that every person in the database were innocent, then
there was a 1 in 3 chance that an innocent person would get fingered, but in
Puckett’s case, one simply knows that there was a one in three chance someone
in the California criminal database would be fingered.)
And that’s a problem when the government starts collecting millions of DNA
samples, sticking them in a massive database and finding ‘cold hits.’
Imagine the innocent man facing down a jury of his peers, hoping that they
understand something about statistics.
The Justice Department is taking comments on the proposed DNA rules until Monday,
Source URL: http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/05/feds-to-collect.html