Lawmakers say a proposal to expand the state’s DNA database will better protect Vermont residents from violent criminals, reports the Vermonet Press Bureau. But a civil liberties group argues that culling genetic samples from people not yet convicted of any crime could compromise rights to privacy guaranteed under the Vermont Constitution. The Senate Judiciary Committee last week issued a formal proposal to begin collecting genetic samples from people arraigned on felony crimes. Such a law would broaden the scope of Vermont’s existing legislation, which requires DNA samples only from people actually convicted of felony crimes.
Prosecutors in the state had requested genetic samples from anyone even arrested of a felony crime; the Senate instead set the threshold at arraignment – the point at which the courts have found probable cause that a crime has been committed. But the Vermont ACLU worries that the law might impinge on privacy protections, and says rapidly evolving uses of the nation’s DNA database could subject innocent citizens to unjust surveillance. “What if a person is arraigned and ends up being exonerated? Or arraigned on a felony and then convicted of a misdemeanor?” said Allen Gilbert, head of the Vermont ACLU. “Will the DNA sample be destroyed?” Gilbert has other concerns, including potential misuse of genetic information, as well as the emergence of so-called “familial searches,” whereby police use partial matches on the genetic database to question family members of people in the database.