Pols Debate DNA Database Expansion

By Sarah Birnbaum

Feb. 8, 2012

BOSTON — Massachusetts lawmakers are considering proposals to expand the state’s DNA database, raising concerns about civil rights and privacy. 
Currently, the state collects a DNA sample from anyone convicted of a felony, converts it into an electronic “profile” and stores it in a vast computer database. But some in the state Legislature want to take DNA samples from people who have been arrested for felonies but not yet convicted.

Barnstable District Attorney Michael O’Keefe said DNA databases help police catch dangerous criminals, prevent crime and solve cases.

“The benefit to public safety of providing a DNA sample is irrefutable. Using our DNA database we have linked over 2000 DNA samples to unsolved Massachusetts criminal cases,” he said.

In O'Keefe's eyes, collecting DNA samples from the un-convicted wouldn't be any different from collecting fingerprints. But Ann Lambert of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts said it would be a serious violation of civil rights.

“DNA samples contain a hugely rich load of information about you. It conveys your genetic makeup. It tells anyone who examines the sample all kinds of things about you as an individual — and that’s not the same as a simple print from a finger,” she said.

The proposals would require the police to destroy the DNA samples if the suspects were found not guilty or the charges were dropped — but first the person would have to file a request with the court.

The Massachusetts proposals are part of a larger trend. Twenty-four states and the federal government collect DNA samples upon arrest for a felony and the New York Senate passed a bill last week that would authorize DNA collection from those convicted of misdemeanors as well as felonies.

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