Last updated on: 10/5/2007 | Author:

Should the Government Be Allowed to Collect DNA Samples from Non-Violent and Non-Convicted Offenders?

General Reference (not clearly pro or con)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)’s CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) website (accessed Apr. 27, 2005) stated:

“CODIS generates investigative leads in crimes where biological evidence is recovered from the crime scene using two indexes: the forensic and offender indexes.

The Forensic Index contains DNA profiles from crime scene evidence. The Offender Index contains DNA profiles of individuals convicted of sex offenses (and other violent crimes) with many states now expanding legislation to include other felonies.

Matches made among profiles in the Forensic Index can link crime scenes together; possibly identifying serial offenders. Based on a match, police in multiple jurisdictions can coordinate their respective investigations, and share the leads they developed independently. Matches made between the Forensic and Offender indexes provide investigators with the identity of the perpetrator(s). After CODIS identifies a potential match, qualified DNA analysts in the laboratories contact each other to validate or refute the match…

As of March 2005 the profile composition of the National DNA Index System (NDIS) is as follows:
Total number of profiles: 2,380,458
Total Forensic profiles: 103,402
Total Convicted Offender Profiles: 2,277,056″

Apr. 27, 2005

PRO (yes)


Peter Reinharz, JD, former Chief of the Family Court Division, New York City Law Department, and Howard Safir, former New York City police commissioner, wrote in their article “DNA Testing: The Next Big Crime-Busting Breakthrough” for the Winter 2000 issue of City Journal:

“A major reason DNA fingerprinting remains stalled in the U.S. is the opposition of civil libertarians. They claim that collecting DNA data is ‘Orwellian,’ or—mixing dystopias—that it heralds a nightmarish ‘Brave New World,’ as ACLU associate director Barry Steinhardt ominously puts it…

[P]olice already keep a data bank of personal information—criminals’ fingerprints. DNA analysis is merely a more sophisticated fingerprint—though the ACLU disagrees… DNA collection, civil libertarians argue, could lead to genetic discrimination… But the genetic markers themselves, though important to police, are ‘junk’ DNA that offer no information about an individual’s predisposition to disease. Lawmakers could easily require that the original DNA samples be destroyed… making impossible any future discriminatory use.

Civil libertarians also fear that taking DNA samples from arrestees means that DNA evidence will still be at law enforcement’s disposal even if a suspect has been exonerated, violating the presumption of innocence at the heart of the American legal system. But just as the law requires a suspect’s fingerprint records destroyed if a court finds him innocent, so it can require the destruction of DNA records of the innocent.”

Winter 2000


Simon A. Cole, PhD, Assistant Professor of the Department of Criminology, Law and Society at UC Irvine, wrote in his chapter titled “Fingerprint Identification and the Criminal Justice System: Historical Lessons for the DNA Debate” published in the 2004 book The Technology of Justice: DNA and the Criminal Justice System:

“Today, the purpose of DNA databases… is to solve crimes… Cold searching, a novelty in the past, is becoming the principal functions of – and justification for – criminal identification databases… [T]he inexorable logic of the criminal identification database in the computer age [is that] the effectiveness of the database is wholly dependent on its size. While one might reasonably conclude that society stands to gain more by entering a serial rapist into a genetic database than a ‘law-abiding’ citizen, one nonetheless cannot deny that a universal DNA database could solve more crimes than one restricted to convicted criminals. If criminals, especially violent ones, leave their DNA at crime scenes, why wait for them to be caught and convicted before having the ability to solve those crimes?…

Including everyone’s DNA in a single database might be the most promising way to ensure proper oversight over the database.”



Amitai Etzioni, PhD, Founder and Director of The Communitarian Network, wrote in his chapter titled “DNA Tests and Databases in Criminal Justice: Individual Rights and the Common Good,” published in the 2004 book The Technology of Justice: DNA and the Criminal Justice System:

“Unless one simply views the government as some kind of ruthless enemy, there is no reason to believe that it will use DNA that is collected for criminal identification purposes to find out about people’s family history, illnesses, etc. In addition, bans on such research and disclosure of such information have been introduced. So far there has not been a single reported violation of these restrictions…

Civil libertarians argue that the data collected should be greatly limited in content and that the samples themselves should be destroyed and only limited profiles… kept… Keeping the samples found at crime scenes and those taken from arrestees and criminals, is justified for now on the ground that DNA tests are still rapidly developing. If the samples are destroyed, any new information they may yield as better technology is developed will not be available if future criminals and suspects need it to prove their innocence, nor will it be available to the government for solving crimes. It is enough to imagine if samples were destroyed but a few years back, when DNA tests were less accurate, how much damage would have been done to both rights and the common good.”


CON (no)


The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) wrote in its Oct. 8, 2003 “Letter to the House Judiciary Committee Expressing Concerns About HR3214, the Advancing Justice Through DNA Technology Act of 2003”:

“H.R. 3214 would expand the definition of ‘qualifying federal offenses’… [and] permit the inclusion of records from states that seize DNA profiles from their residents who have not even been convicted of crimes — people who are innocent under our system of government. States such as California and Louisiana already have statutes that would allow for the collection of DNA profiles of persons arrested, but not necessarily convicted of crimes… This broad inclusion of records will change the character of CODIS from a system that is somewhat narrowly tailored for forensic purposes to a system that gathers personal information about innocent people just in case they someday commit a crime.”

Oct. 8, 2003


The ACLU’s Technology and Science Fellow with the ACLU’s Technology and Liberty Project, Tania Simoncelli, wrote an article titled “Retreating Justice” in the Mar.-Apr. 2004 issue of GeneWatch:

“Storing DNA taken from unsuspected individuals in a criminal database undermines presumptive innocence and sets a chilling precedent for data collection by the government of its citizens. In addition, it violates the rights of people to be secure and protected from ‘unreasonable searches and seizures’ as is guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution…

Unlike a fingerprint, a DNA sample contains a person’s entire genetic code. As researchers probe the connections between genes and race, behavior, and disease, the potential for DNA databank abuse escalates. Some of these concerns could be met by indexing only DNA profiles and destroying the biological samples; yet, to this day, only one state requires that DNA samples be destroyed after profiling.”

Mar.-Apr. 2004


Laura K. Donohue, PhD, Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) at Stanford University, wrote in an Aug. 22, 2004 op-ed for the the San Francisco Chronicle titled “Proposition 69 Could Threaten Privacy of DNA”:

“The idea that you could easily retract your DNA from this felony database is fiction. Once an individual is found to be innocent, he or she could apply to have material removed, but the state would not be required to do so. Following the initial hearing, no appeal would be allowed.

A system that captures innocent citizens’ DNA, lacks transparency, and fails to adequately protect the gathered information against future misuse goes too far.”

Aug. 22, 2004


The Innocence Project co-founder and co-director, Peter Neufeld, JD, stated in his Jan. 2003 interview with Peter Shorett of GeneWatch titled “Technologies of Justice”:

“We don’t approve of arrestee databases. Virginia, for instance… passed a statute permitting the DNA sampling of anyone who is arrested… We oppose this because it invites police to engage in pretext arrests: arresting somebody without probable cause, just to get a biological specimen…

There’s also an emerging problem of grand proportions called ‘Dragnet Databases.’ These are databases comprised of people who are being asked to volunteer specimens in order to help law enforcement solve a serious, serial crime. Recently, in New Orleans, eight hundred men were asked to give samples so they could be ruled out as suspects in a case. If they didn’t, they were told, they would be dragged into court, harassed, and placed under surveillance.

In Florida, after a string of serial rapes were committed in a black part of Miami, the detectives collected samples from 2800 black men — none of whom had been arrested. After the investigation, when the perpetrator was caught, identified, and his DNA matched with that in seven other cases, the state of Florida retained the samples of those 2800 men — who, once again, were neither arrested nor convicted of any crime — and put them in their database. And that made an ‘usual suspect’ database they will have for perpetuity.”

Jan. 2003