Thursday, May 15, 2008

Action Alert: About That Jeopardy Thing. . .

Quoted in full from an email alert just issued by the Center for Constitutional Rights:

Please read this alert for background on the plan and immediately go here and click on the yellow "Add Comments" balloon to file public comments with the government to oppose the plan. The government is only accepting comments until this Monday, May 19, so take action today!

At the end of 2005, a little-noticed provision was slipped into the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) reauthorization bill that provided the federal government with the power to collect and permanently keep DNA samples from anyone arrested for any crime whether or not they are convicted, any non-U.S. citizen merely detained by federal authorities for any reason, and everyone in federal prison. Now the government is trying to put the DNA Fingerprint Act into practice.

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.
• Countless numbers of visitors from other countries who are pulled aside in airports by the Transportation Security Administration.
• Lawful immigrants seeking admission to this country, whether at the land border or in passport control at the airport.
Go here for more information on the law.

This is a dangerous invasion of privacy. Our DNA is not a fingerprint - it contains vast amounts of sensitive medical information about us. And Congress held no hearings on this dangerous legislation, even though it:
• threatens the privacy of millions of Americans; [make that ALL Americans and ALL foreign visitors]
• would disproportionately affect people of color; [and GLBT people]
• and turns the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" on its head.

The Justice Department recently issued proposed regulations on the implementation of the law and is seeking public comments. Go here and voice your opposition to the federal government collecting and permanently storing our DNA. (See the end of this email for suggested talking points.) CCR will also be submitting extensive comments and notifying the press of this important story so the government can't slip their plan by without the public knowing.

Here are some reasons to oppose this plan, which you can use in your comments:
• Innocent people do not belong in a criminal DNA database. The underlying statute that permits this is wrong and goes against basic principles of our justice system.
• The regulations interpret the statute as broadly as possible, giving the FBI and other federal agencies the authority to take DNA in far too wide a range of cases.
• DNA is not a fingerprint - it contains vast amounts of sensitive medical information about us. The Justice Department's decision not to require destruction of the biological samples once the DNA profile is uploaded to its database exacerbates the potential for our genetic privacy to be violated and opens the door to the potential of familial searching.
• The regulations will add a disproportionate number of people of color to the database, potentially making those communities an increased target for law enforcement and further aggravating the already existing racial disparities in the criminal justice system.
• The regulations estimate that potentially more than one million new samples will be added to the database a year, yet the FBI's laboratory is currently receiving for processing only 75,000 offender samples each year. The requirement to collect, profile and upload such a massive number of DNA samples will flood the system and create huge backlogs, which may ultimately hinder criminal investigations, rather than help them.
• The regulations contemplate federal agencies contracting with third parties to collect and store DNA samples. Outsourcing the handling of this most sensitive information to multiple collection and storage sites will almost certainly lead to abuse, the creation of "shadow databases," and error, potentially undermining public trust in DNA as an effective investigational tool.

Vincent Warren
CCR Executive Director