- General Janet Reno has asked a federal
commission to study the legality of taking DNA samples from everyone arrested
instead of just the convicted sex offenders and violent felons currently
permitted by law.
- Such widespread testing would hugely
expand government's reach by placing the genetic fingerprints of millions
of Americans into state crime databases even if they never were convicted
of a crime.
- The study is to be announced in Dallas
Monday at a meeting of the National Commission on the Future of DNA Evidence.
The commission, a panel of judges, defense lawyers, police, prosecutors
and scientists, will conduct the study.
- Driving Reno's request: a new law in
Louisiana and proposals in North Carolina and New York City to permit widespread
- "This doesn't imply an endorsement
one way or another," said John Bentivoglio, a Justice Department attorney
who is Reno's chief privacy adviser. "It does reflect (Reno's) deep
interest and commitment in using our law enforcement tools in a manner
that is sensitive to privacy rights."
- New York City Police Commissioner Howard
Safir, who has proposed DNA testing for everyone arrested in his jurisdiction,
backs the study. "This is not an invasive process, and if it's used
properly it's going to protect society," he said.
- Taking DNA from convicts has been upheld
by courts for the same reason as fingerprints. Both amount to warrantless
searches, courts have said, but are justified by government's need to solve
- Expanding DNA testing to everyone arrested
is opposed by privacy advocates who fear that information from innocent
people will be misused.
- "Why target everybody with a broad
brush when many (arrested) people are never convicted of anything?"
asked Harlan Levy, a New York City defense lawyer and author of a book
- A second concern is that DNA taken in
criminal investigations will be used later to extract genetic information
about predisposition to disease and other hereditary factors.
- Reno has asked the commission to study
- The commission is scheduled to get recommendations
to Reno by Aug. 1. She can use them to craft legislation and to set policy
for using DNA in federal law enforcement.
- The FBI estimates 15.3 million Americans
were arrested in 1997. All states now have laws permitting them to take
DNA from convicted rapists and other felons such as murderers and child
- A national database now has 38,000 criminal
DNA profiles. Another 450,000 have been collected but not analyzed.