Sunday, October 17, 2004

Expanded DNA Database Proposed

Measure proposes DNA database
AP | Oct 16 2004

RICHMOND -- Buried in a nondescript office park in this East Bay suburb of San Francisco lies the high-tech future of law enforcement.
It's a future full of promise for catching more criminals -- and, civil libertarians fear, full of potential for Big Brother-like abuse.
Californians on Nov. 2 will decide whether to greatly expand the collection of DNA samples, not only from convicted criminals but from anyone arrested on suspicion of committing a felony starting in 2009. Those who are never charged or are eventually found innocent would have to petition a judge to have their genetic fingerprints removed from the statewide database.
Juveniles would be added to the database for any felony conviction, and their DNA would stay on record even if their file is sealed after they turn 18.
Unlike some other states, California would retain the raw samples indefinitely, though the initiative would bar investigators from using the intricate life codes for any purpose other than matching criminal to crime.
"We would really be pushing the envelope on what is acceptable when it comes to people's privacy," said Laura K. Donohue, a fellow at the Stanford Institute for International Studies' Center for International Security and Cooperation who opposes the initiative.
California already collects DNA from those convicted of any of 36 serious felonies, accumulating nearly 250,000 samples that already have helped crack dozens of cases once thought to be unsolvable.
The database will quadruple to a projected 1 million samples in four years if voters approve Proposition 69.
Law enforcement officials from Attorney General Bill Lockyer on down say expanding the database to all accused felons would dramatically increase the number of potential matches, targeting repeat offenders from their first arrest instead of waiting until they commit a more serious crime.
DNA is nothing more than a high-tech identifier, like the mug shots and fingerprints already collected at the time of arrest but more precise, Lockyer argued during a tour of California's state-of-the-art laboratory in Richmond.
About once each day, the computer spits out a match between DNA from a crime scene and a criminal.
Collecting DNA from every accused felon at the time of arrest is "the Holy Grail of public safety and law enforcement," said Bruce Harrington, sponsor of Proposition 69 and chairman of the initiative campaign. "The crime-solving aspect of it is dramatically increased."
Opposition has emerged from civil libertarians, privacy rights organizations and conservatives concerned about government intrusion, including Republican former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr, a former U.S. attorney who now chairs the Privacy & Freedom Center of the American Conservative Union.
Backers argue that taking the samples at the time of arrest is most efficient and allows better investigations. But it is the presumed guilt in the ballot measure that concerns civil libertarians. More than 50,000 Californians each year are arrested but never charged with a crime, the ACLU says; they would be required to give up their DNA nonetheless.
Thirty-four other states have variations of all-felon databases. But backers point to the success of Virginia, which has recorded many more "cold hits" than California from a state with a population less than that of Los Angeles County. PROPOSITION 69 The DNA Samples, Collection, Database, Funding Initiative would: Collect DNA samples from all felons, not just those convicted of 36 serious felonies as defined under current law Collect the samples at the time of arrest beginning in 2009 Require those found not guilty to petition to have their samples removed from the statewide database Let local investigators immediately seek to collect DNA samples from anyone already arrested on suspicion of rape or murder who did not already provide a sample Be paid for with an increase in criminal fines.