SANTA ANA, Calif. (AP) - Civil liberties and immigrant advocates
are warning of perils in a new plan that took effect on Friday
allowing federal agencies to collect DNA samples from anyone who is
arrested and foreigners detained by immigration authorities.
The Department of Justice rule aims to help federal law enforcement agencies solve and deter crimes by expanding the country's DNA database, which is overseen by the FBI. The government also hopes that sampling immigrant detainees will help law enforcement hold them accountable for any crimes they may have committed in the United States.
The rule, which was proposed last year using authority granted
by Congress, has sparked outcry from civil liberties advocates who
say collecting a person's biological information is not the same as
taking their fingerprints.
"We should not be taking DNA, which contains highly personal
information, from people merely upon suspicion they've done
something wrong," said Larry Frankel, state legislative counsel
for the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C. "This
completely reverses the notion someone is innocent until proven
Until now, federal agencies could sample DNA only from convicted
Civil liberties advocates worry the government will find other uses for DNA samples down the road once the information is stored.
For example, Frankel said he is concerned authorities could
eventually use an arrestee's DNA profile to ration health care
Congress gave the Justice Department the authority to expand DNA
collection in two laws passed in 2005 and 2006.
Evan Peterson, a spokesman for the Department of Justice, said
the rule does not aim to target immigrants but to help federal
agencies fight crime.
The federal government estimates it makes about 140,000 arrests
each year. Justice officials have estimated the new rule would add
DNA from an additional 1.2 million people to the database each
It was not immediately clear which federal agencies, however,
were implementing the new rule. FBI and Homeland Security officials
were checking whether they had started to implement the rule.
Thirteen states already collect DNA samples from some arrestees,
according to a 2008 survey by the National Conference of State
Legislatures. Nearly all limit the practice to arrests related to
violent crimes or felonies.
At the federal level, officials will take a cheek swab for DNA
from arrestees along with fingerprints regardless of the nature of
the offense, according to the Department of Justice.
Several civil and immigrant rights advocates questioned whether
immigration enforcement agencies were prepared to carry out the
"I would be stunned if anybody in the immigration enforcement
area was actually doing this," said Barry Steinhardt, director of
the ACLU's technology and liberty program. "You need to have
equipment, you need to have the training."
Immigrant rights advocates said they hoped President-elect
Barack Obama would reverse course on the DNA rule after taking
office Jan. 20.
"Our hope is a lot of these incredibly intrusive, borderline
unconstitutional actions are simply going to be stopped by the new
administration," said Charles Kuck, president of the American
Immigration Lawyers Association.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)