Law enforcement officials have begun a determined effort to expand DNA databases by obtaining specimens from citizens that have been arrested or detained for crimes but not yet convicted.
The FBI’s DNA database currently includes 6.7 million profiles.
It had been growing by 80,000 entries per year, but the new initiative will increase this annual growth rate 15-fold, to 1.2 million per year by 2012.
Cops say genetic surveillance solves crimes more accurately than other physical evidence. “I’ve watched women go from mug-book to mug-book looking for the man who raped her,” Denver DA Mitch Morrissey told the New York Times. “It saves lives.”
DNA evidence has also exonerated at least 200 wrongfully convicted people.
Courts typically support compulsory DNA collection from convicts on grounds they are not entitled to full privacy rights, but the new initiatives appear to trample those precedents.
Currently, minors in 35 states must provide DNA samples if convicted, and in some states they must submit specimens upon arrest. In 16 states, authorities can obtain samples from certain people after being found guilty of a misdemeanor.
Some believe the new initiatives threaten Fourth Amendment privacy rights. “The Constitution prohibits…indiscriminate taking of DNA for things like writing an insufficient funds check, shoplifting, drug convictions,” ACLU lawyer Michael Risher told the Times.
In the UK, which has fewer privacy protections than here, authorities have DNA samples for 4.5 million of its 61 million citizens including children as young as 10. About 20% of them have no criminal record.
Rock Harmon, a former prosecutor for Alameda County, Calif., told the Times there was no cause for concern. “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear,” he said.