Should All Americans’ DNA Be On File For Crime Checks?


The nation’s databank of DNA “fingerprints” of more than 3 million Americans is growing by more than 80,000 people every month, giving police an unprecedented crime-fighting tool and prompting warnings that the expansion threatens constitutional privacy protections, the Washington Post reports. With little public debate, state and federal rules for cataloging DNA have broadened to include not only violent felons, as was originally the case, but also perpetrators of minor crimes and even people who have been arrested but not convicted. Some in law enforcement are calling for a national registry of every American’s DNA profile, against which police could instantly compare crime-scene specimens. Advocates say the system would dissuade many would-be criminals and help capture the rest. “This is the single best way to catch bad guys and keep them off the street,” said Chris Asplen of the law firm Smith Alling Lane and former executive director of the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence. “When it’s applied to everybody, it is fair, and frankly you wouldn’t even know it was going on.”

Opponents say the growing use of DNA scans is making suspects out of many law-abiding Americans and turning the “innocent until proven guilty” maxim on its head. “These databases are starting to look more like a surveillance tool than a tool for criminal investigation,” said Tania Simoncelli of the American Civil Liberties Union. DNA-checking dragnets rarely pay off, says a study by Samuel Walker, a criminology professor at the University of Nebraska. Of the 18 such cases he documented since 1990, including one in which police tested 2,300 people, only one identified the offender. That one was limited to 25 men known to have had access to the victim, who was attacked while incapacitated in a nursing home. Dragnets, Walker concluded, “are highly unproductive” and “possibly unconstitutional.”


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