The government is expanding collection of DNA samples beginning Jan. 9 to include anyone arrested on federal charges and many immigrants detained by the Homeland Security Department.
Previously, DNA was collected only from people convicted of crimes.
Civil rights advocates are up in arms. They say DNA sampling before conviction is another example of big government trampling the privacy of individuals.
The new policy would add more than 1.2 million DNA samples to an FBI database that already has digitally logged the genetic material of 6.2 million convicts.
The samples can be taken from blood or saliva swabs.
The federal policy follows the lead of 13 states that have expanded their DNA collection to arrestees, largely from crime concerns raised by illegal immigration and terrorism. All 50 states allow DNA sampling on convicts.
Most of the new samples would be taken from illegal immigrants detained by the Homeland Security Department. Its records show that Border Patrol and other agencies detained about 1.2 million immigrants in 2006. About 140,000 Americans are arrested for felonies each year that could subject them to DNA sampling after Jan 9.
Immigrants awaiting lawful entry into the United States or detained at sea by the Coast Guard would not be subjected to the DNA sampling.
Law enforcement agencies use DNA by comparing samples to crime-scene evidence to find a match that leads them to suspects.
The Justice Department instituted the policy with the approval of Congress in a December 2005 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act.
“We know from past experience that collecting DNA at arrest or deportation will prevent rapes and murders that would otherwise be committed,” Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, who sponsored the legislation, said when the Justice Department published its final regulations for the expanded samplings earlier this year.
He mentioned as an example Arizona’s “Chandler rapist,” an illegal immigrant arrested in January after a suspected half-dozen sexual assaults on teenage girls and young mothers. He had been deported in 2003, but police took no DNA sample from him, which Mr. Kyl said could have led to an arrest early in the crime spree.
The American Civil Liberties Union says the new policy punishes people who might never be convicted of crimes. Many arrestees later are found not guilty or have their cases dismissed. Immigrants are not necessarily criminals.
The FBI could retain the genetic material permanently in the National DNA Index System. The ACLU says the government could analyze it for ancestry and medical diagnoses, both of which are supposed to be protected under the Fourth Amendment as privacy issues.
“Already, the government has allowed its DNA database to be used in ways that go far beyond what was originally envisioned,” said Michael T. Risher, ACLU staff lawyer.
Law enforcement agencies sometimes use their database matches to track down family members whose DNA is similar to crime-scene genetic material in the hope they will then name the suspect, the ACLU says.
The Justice Department denies privacy rights would be trampled by wider collection of DNA.
“DNA samples and profiles in the system are subject to stringent privacy protections, reinforced and secured through numerous safeguards to ensure that information in the system is used only for proper law enforcement identification purposes,” said Evan Peterson, Justice Department spokesman.
• Above the Law runs on Mondays. Call Tom Ramstack at 202/636-3180 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.