Bill would allow DNA collection from non-convicts

A new bill could force suspects arrested or detained by federal authorities to give samples of their DNA for storage in a central database.

Current law permits federal authorities to collect DNA samples from individuals convicted of crimes to store in an FBI registry. Law enforcement officials compare DNA in the registry to samples found at crime scenes.

But a bill sponsored by Sen. John Kyl, R-Ariz., and Sen. John Cornyn, R-Tex., would go beyond that by allowing DNA samples to be collected from suspects who may never be convicted of a crime.

The proposed law would require arrestees who are not convicted to petition to have their information removed from the database after their cases are resolved.

The bill which was recently approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and has support from the White House; it is pending a vote on the floor.

According to its sponsors, the bill would prevent some crimes and help law enforcement officials solve others more efficiently.

“When police retrace the history of a serial predator after he is finally caught, they often find that he never had a prior criminal conviction, but did have a prior arrest,” Kyl said in a statement. “That means the only way they are likely to catch such a perpetrator after his first crime – rather than his tenth – is if authorities can maintain a comprehensive database of all those who are arrested, just as we do with fingerprints.”

But the bill has privacy advocates concerned.

“DNA is not like fingerprinting,” Jesselyn McCurdy, a legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, said in an interview with the Washington Post. “It contains genetic information and information about diseases.”

The group questions whether the measure is constitutional, McCurdy said.

“It is an attack on our privacy, on our Fourth Amendment rights,” she said.

In the recording procedure, DNA is taken from a suspect’s saliva using a swab. A DNA profile consisting of a unique numeric signature is generated from the sample that can be stored without including private genetic information, according to law enforcement officials cited in the Washington Post.

But according to privacy advocates, the records are being made available to too many government officials, and uncertainty over how the samples are being handled, recorded and secured in state and federal agencies is leaving open potential for abuse.

Individual states began to maintain their own DNA registries for criminals in the late 1990s. Initially samples were only taken from arrestees convicted of sex offenses, but since that time state and federal legislation has expanded the use of DNA registries to include DNA information of other convicted criminals.

If passed, Kyl’s proposal would be the first in the nation to permit the collection of DNA from people not convicted of crimes.

Kyl’s measure was added as an amendment to a bill to strengthen penalties for violent acts against women and was approved without a roll-call vote.

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