- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2008

Add DNA to the list of things the federal government may soon be able to take from suspects it arrests or detains.

Under a proposed expansion of a national computer database, the samples would be used to better identify criminals, terrorists and missing persons. It also would bolster DNA collection efforts already under way in 13 states and could include more than 140,000 federal arrests now reported annually.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, sponsored the legislation, which was added as an amendment to the Violence Against Women Act of 2006, saying it was “long overdue.”

“The proposed regulations will save lives and prevent crimes,” Mr. Kyl said yesterday. “Many innocent lives could have been saved had the government began this kind of DNA sampling in the 1990s when the technology to do so first became available.”

Those whose DNA would be collected also could include thousands of foreign nationals detained every year inside the United States and would not be limited under existing federal regulations to convicted felons. More than 876,000 illegal immigrants were arrested last year in the United States, many of them identified as criminal aliens.

Senate aides said the proposed new regulations will be published in the Federal Register tomorrow.

But expanding the DNA database — known as the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) — has raised questions among some civil rights leaders and organizations who fear some of the collected information, including data about family connections and genetic conditions, could be misused.

Jesselyn McCurdy, legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the government will have a plethora of information on people who are ultimately never convicted of crimes.

“We’re definitely concerned,” she said, adding that what is now a database of criminals could eventually turn into “more of a surveillance database” under the proposed expansion.

Ms. McCurdy also said the Kyl amendment on which the database expansion is based would not make it easy for people to have their personal information removed from the government’s records.

“If you’re arrested and never convicted, it would be very difficult to get your DNA out of the database,” she said.

CODIS is a computer software program that operates local, state and national databases of DNA profiles from convicted offenders, unsolved crime-scene evidence and missing persons. Every state has a statutory provision for the establishment of a DNA database that allows for the collection of DNA profiles from offenders convicted of particular crimes.

The CODIS software enables law-enforcement crime laboratories to compare DNA profiles electronically, linking serial crimes to each other and identifying suspects by matching DNA profiles from crime scenes with profiles from convicted offenders.

Congress gave the Justice Department the authority to expand DNA collection under bills passed in 2005 and 2006.

The proposed expansion would not be limited to the Justice Department, but it would pertain to all federal agencies that have the authority to arrest or detain suspects.

The states with DNA collections already under way are Alaska, Arizona, California, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

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