Monday, May 12, 2008

Expanding DNA databases. Helpful or hurtful?

Laura Neuman was 18 years old when she was raped, and her attacker was not identified until 20 years later despite his multiple arrests since. A DNA sample taken while her attacker, Alphonso Hill, was in prison (2002) also led to charges in six other rape cases. Neuman began lobbying in Maryland for a law that would require police to take DNA samples from all people arrested for violent crimes, even before they are convicted.

Maryland will start expanding its DNA database on Tuesday, along with a dozen other states that plan to do the same. Some people see this as being on the same level as taking fingerprints of those who are arrested, while others view it as a civil rights violation.

"This is information that leads to all sorts of basic data about who we are, our entire physical makeup," said Caroline Fredrickson, director of the Washington office of the American Civil Liberties Union. "That is really different than a few fingerprints."


Others see expanding DNA databases to include samples from those who have not been convicted as a potential crime-solving aid.


Changes are coming at the federal level as well. The government soon will begin collecting DNA samples from anyone arrested or detained by the feds, including illegal immigrants.

"I think there is a valid public policy for doing that because there are many people who have committed crimes but who have never been convicted but have been arrested and without their DNA in the system we are not solving those crimes," said Associate Attorney General Kevin O'Connor.


There are also other problems foreseen by critics of this proposal.

Justice Department officials estimate when the expansion is fully implemented -- as soon as December -- information from about 1.2 million people a year could be added to the national DNA database. It's another cause of consternation for critics--who say backlogs remain a major problem.

The FBI estimates that about a quarter of a million DNA samples have yet to be processed in its lab and says it did not receive any new funds to deal with the backlog, which is sure to grow even larger.

What do you guys think? Neuman really seems to think it will be beneficial for people like herself who have suffered violent crimes and have gone so long without having their attackers identified.

5 comments:

Ennui said...

The needs of a small number of rape victims pale in comparison to the rights to privacy of millions of citizens.

I would think feminists of all people, would understand the right to privacy.

There are FAR too many ways in which such a database could be abused.

Lindsay said...

The needs of a small number of rape victims pale in comparison to the rights to privacy of millions of citizens.

1 in 4 college women are sexually assaulted. That's not a small number. I don't know the statistic for all women, but 1 in 4 college women is still a sizable portion of the population.

That being said, I think a DNA database infringes on personal rights. I don't want the government to have a copy of my DNA. Taking DNA samples of convicted felons is one thing; expanding the database to include everyone, including illegal immigrants, is another. Personally, I think the police need a specific reason to take someone's DNA, not just to expand their database. The backlog of DNA testing means while my DNA is being cataloged in case I commit a crime someday, an actual DNA test of an actual crime isn't being processed, stopping the so-called justice system.

Amelia said...

Just to clarify: They would only be taking samples from those who are arrested/detained. I'm not taking sides yet, but just a clarification.

Ennui said...

1 in 4 college women are sexually assaulted. That's not a small number. I don't know the statistic for all women, but 1 in 4 college women is still a sizable portion of the population.

Not when you factor in what percentage of the overall population is actually IN college, or gets to go TO college.

Factoring only college women is sort of classist, really, and assumes that college women > non college women.

And that still doesn't excuse infringing on the rights of millions, really.

The backlog of DNA testing means while my DNA is being cataloged in case I commit a crime someday, an actual DNA test of an actual crime isn't being processed, stopping the so-called justice system.

That's not even considering the possibilities of abuses such as (I'll admit, these are far-fetched, to an extent) of discriminatory practices against people with various genetic illnesses, that could easily be identified via DNA.

Knowing the US, though, if our populace continues electing Republicans, they'll find a way to make it mandatory for all citizens.

How's "Must submit to swab of mouth to board aircraft/get passport" sound? Eerily plausible, I think.

Just to clarify: They would only be taking samples from those who are arrested/detained. I'm not taking sides yet, but just a clarification.

What happened to innocent until proven guilty?

Lindsay said...


Not when you factor in what percentage of the overall population is actually IN college, or gets to go TO college.

Factoring only college women is sort of classist, really, and assumes that college women > non college women.

The reason I cited the 1 in 4 stat was because it's the one I know off the top of my head. Regardless of that, I acknowledged that it only referred to college women and not all women, which I don't think is a sign of classism. That being said, the number of women sexually assaulted isn't some small margin; it's a significant part of the population.

I don't think the government should be able to take DNA samples unless they have a specific reason - just being arrested or detained isn't a good enough reason. I'm sure there are some unsolved crimes that would be solved if DNA evidence was available; however, I don't think that's enough to start cataloging everyone that goes through those police house doors (for a violent crime).