In a recent ACLU case, Lily Haskell was arrested for attending a protest of the Iraq War, but was never charged with anything. When she was required by police to provide DNA, she requested a lawyer, and at that point she was told that she would be charged with a misdemeanor if she did not provide a DNA sample. This raises the question: why was a person who was only exercising her right as an American to protest, treated the same as every other criminal in America. For merely attending a protest event, she was arrested and forced to provide DNA to law enforcement. What happened to Ms. Haskell can and is happening to people across our nation. Government is finding any excuse possible to collect your DNA.
All levels of government are beginning to maintain databases of citizens DNA. Whereas in the past, the fingerprint was the method that law enforcement used to identify criminals; now, government is using any excuse necessary to extract and store one’s DNA. Data basing efforts include cataloging infant DNA after necessary testing, cataloging prisoner DNA, and collecting DNA from suspects to help law enforcement pinpoint “criminals”. DNA data basing is becoming a trendy option for not only for the federal government, but some state governments as well. The federal government requires DNA samples from suspects arrested on federal crimes, prior to any conviction or trial whatsoever. Twenty-one states require DNA sample collection from arrestees. Opponents maintain that this is a violation of fundamental civil rights and argue against DNA storage for many other reasons as well.
In this fairly new era of DNA data basing, human error is left out of the equation. In California alone, there are over 200,000 samples in the state’s database. The sheer quantity of this extremely sensitive material is left to humans to handle and catalogue. A minor mistake by a lab technician could cost someone his/her life unjustly.
Researchers and other advocates of DNA data basing are aggressively protecting their turf. The American College of Medical Genetics, for example, recently issued a “position statement” extolling the benefits of dried-blood specimen databases, and dismissing opponents’ concerns as “unsubstantiated and highly exaggerated.” Even the March of Dimes has joined the DNA data basing bandwagon.
Opponents of DNA data basing clearly have their work cut out. Let’s hope that we are successful in checking government efforts to enhance its DNA information storage capabilities.