Less Liberty and Justice for All

According to USA Today, the Justice Department is pushing for legislation to extend their DNA database to include not only convicted criminals but also juvenile offenders and even non-convicted arrestees. This means that if you are accused of a crime–even if you are completely innocent–a record of your DNA will be kept by the Justice Department, along with your fingerprints and other personal information. The DoJ is comparing it to fingerprinting, but I think this is a false analogy–DNA extraction is both more invasive than fingerprinting and more telling. A fingerprint is only really useful in establishing your presence at the scene of the crime, and maybe your contact with a weapon or lock combination or other material evidence. DNA can be used to identify carriers of certain diseases and regressive traits, to build a rough physiological profile of a person, to establish ancestry to a degree, to establish paternity and maternity, and so on. Not only could such information be dangerous in the hands of less-than-scrupulous government agents, but it could be even more dangerous in the hands of persons who obtain illicit access to the DoJ’s databases–and somebody will, if a good enough use for that information is discovered.

If passed, this invasion of privacy will apply not only to people who have actually committed crimes, but to people who have not. The whole idea behind the juvenile justice system is that minors are not responsible for their own actions, can not evaluate the consequences of their actions, and may, under the right conditions, still be capable of becoming productive and law-abiding adults. Adding them to the DoJ’s DNA database is a tacit rejection of those ideas. It reflects the assumption that people who commit crimes as youngsters will continue to commit crimes as adults, regardless of time they spend in rehabilitiation facilities. The implications of including innocents are even more disturbing, reflecting the sort of “you may be innocent of this crime, but the fact that you were arrested means you must be guilty of something” mentality that is growing ever more pervasive in today’s America. The fact that you were arrested is taken by the DoJ as proof enough that you are likely to be involved in future crimes.

Given the free reign which the War on Terrorism, especially, has given to law enforcement, it would not be surprising if within a very short time, all Americans have been indexed in the DoJ’s DNA database. If DNA recording is made the status quo for arrestees, why not make require it for everyone who appears in court, or everyone who applies for American citizenship, or everyone who uses federal social services? I’m not trying to make a “slippery slope” argument–it might be possible to manage to get everyone arrested, at least once, just under existing laws. Even law-abiding citizens like Mike Hawash can be arrested under our current anti-terrorism laws–why not you? Or me? The DoJ’s terrorist watch list includes 13 million people–many of which are non-citizens and foreign nationals, but the sheer number of potential suspects for just terrorism-related crimes is an indication of the kind of scale the DoJ is willing to consider for keeping an eye on potential criminals. The DoJ is clearly willing to think big, and that scares me. It should scare everyone.

Old Comments

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>