Friday, January 19, 2007

Government to collect immigrant DNA

The Justice Department reports that it's working on plans to implement a new program to add DNA samples from undocumented immigrants to the FBI's national crime database. Last year, President Bush signed a bill expanding the federal DNA collection program to include non-U.S. citizens and those arrested or detained, as part of a broader policy to fight terrorism. This new plan, pushed by Arizona GOP Sen. Jon Kyl, would expand the database, which currently includes only those convicted felonies and some misdemeanors, to include individuals who may never have been convicted of any crime.

Those detained at the border or an airport, or those in raids like those recently done at the Swift & Co. plants, would be required under these new provisions to supply DNA samples to the government regardless of the ultimate outcome of their cases.

"People will end up in this database even without probable cause for their arrest or detention," said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest group in Washington, D.C.

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The amendment to expand of the database, which Kyle had tacked on to the 2005 Violence Against Women Act, drew criticism at the time on numerous grounds due to concerns about civil liberties violations. Originally, the federal DNA database was limited to convicted sex offenders, then it was expanded to include violent felons. Under the provisions of the Kyle amendment the database was further expanded to include those suspects arrested or detained by federal authorities for any reason, but not necessarily convicted of any crime

The Justice Department is now engaged in determining just how to implement the provisions of the bill.

"The (Department of Justice) is engaged in extensive consultation with affected agencies and is moving forward to issue the implementing regulations," department spokesman Erick Ablin confirmed Thursday

Depending on how broadly the final rule is written, it could affect a range of departments and agencies, from the FBI, Homeland Security Department and Drug Enforcement Administration, to the National Park Service.

Arizonia Republic

Clearly any planned implementation of the plan would effect the thousands of undocumented and suspected undocumented immigrants detained or arrested ever year for violations ranging from illegal entry and possessing fraudulent identification to expired visas and being "out of status" due to paperwork processing delays.

Opponents point out the broader implications of the new policy.

Someone selected for a secondary screening at an airport is, technically, being detained and could be required to provide a DNA sample, said Tim Sparapani, legislative counsel for the national office of the American Civil Liberties Union.

So could someone selected for inspection while crossing the border, or those detained as material witnesses to a crime.

"All of these situations can have innocent people's DNA entered into the database," Sparapani said.

But already, the government has access to more than 3.5 million DNA records, and that the number is expanding dramatically, said Marc Rotenberg, Executive Director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, a public interest group in Washington, D.C.

Some also warn that the larger the DNA database gets, the greater the chance of finding two samples that look the same but are not from the same person.

"When you have a database filled with people presumed to be criminal and add people simply for all kinds of non-criminal reasons and mistakes, you've diluted your database and mistakes can be made," Sparapani said.

Roberto Reveles, president of the Phoenix-based immigrant rights group, Somos America, said the DNA database expansion shows that "Big Brother is going really fast." He said the tactic represents a violation of privacy and he hopes conservative Americans will join in "making the loudest protests against this."

Arizonia Republic

Given the questionable tactics used in the most recent meatpacking raids, the detention of US citizens alongside their foreign-born family members, the discrepancies between the numbers detained and the numbers actually charged with a crime, the inability or unwillingness of government authorities to disclose the whereabouts of detainees, and the well known ineffectualness and ineptitude of the immigration services, the notion of granting them the power to collect this kind of personal data borders on the ludicrous at best ….if not the criminal.

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