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Sweeping New Federal DNA Database Must Have DOJ Hearings First, Say CCR Attorneys

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Rights Organization: New Database Threatens Privacy, Targets Immigrants, People of Color, and Peaceful Demonstrators

Contact:

Esther Wang, press@ccrjustice.org 

May 19, 2008, New York, NY – Today, the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) requested hearings on a new federal database that would require the collection of millions of new DNA samples and keep them on file permanently. CCR also submitted extensive public comment to the Department of Justice opposing the database today, which is the last day for public comment.

“This legislation would threaten the privacy of millions of Americans; disproportionately affect people of color; and turns the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ on its head,”
said CCR attorney Matthew Strugar. “DNA is not a simple fingerprint—it contains vast amounts of private medical information the government has no business keeping on us.”

At the end of 2005, a little-noticed provision – the DNA Fingerprint Act – was slipped into the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill that provided the federal government with broadly expanded powers to collect and permanently keep DNA samples from millions of people. Currently only a limited number of crimes trigger inclusion in the federal DNA database. Under this new law, the government would collect DNA from anyone arrested for any crime – whether or not they are convicted – any non-U.S. citizen detained by federal authorities for any reason, and everyone in federal prison. At the time, there was no debate in Congress, and the government is now trying to put the DNA Fingerprint Act into practice without any public attention.

Implementation of this law would mean that more than one million people will have their DNA forcibly collected, analyzed and retained in a government database each year. Under this new law, federal agencies would be required to take DNA samples from individuals arrested for the most minor of crimes, such as peaceful protestors who are demonstrating on federal property.

In addition, the law would allow DNA to be collected from countless numbers of visitors from other countries who are pulled aside in airports by the Transportation Security Administration and lawful immigrants seeking admission to this country, whether at the land border or in passport control at the airport.

“This kind of sweeping invasion of privacy shouldn’t be slipped by under the radar without debate: there must be public hearings before a program of this magnitude goes into effect,” said CCR Executive Director Vincent Warren. “By including the DNA profiles of large numbers of immigrants and everyone in federal prisons, where people of color are held in alarming disproportion, this law would only increase the racial inequities of our criminal justice system – when the database is expanded to include familial searches, you end up with entire communities on file.”

Read more about the DNA Fingerprint Act.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.