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IPFS News Link • Privacy Rights

DNA Collection at the Border Threatens the Privacy of All Americans

• New York Times

We're one step closer to the "genetic panopticon" that Antonin Scalia warned us about.

What if the United States government took the DNA of vast numbers of Americans for use without their consent? The Trump administration has just brought us one step closer to that dystopia. On January 6, the federal government began collecting DNA from any person in immigration custody — previously, it had required only fingerprints. With this move, the federal government took a decisive step toward collecting and tracking large numbers of its citizens' genetic information too.

The federally administered CODIS, or Combined DNA Index System, has expanded dramatically in scope since its inception. Virginia established the first forensic DNA database in 1989, with the federal government following suit in 1994. Today, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and the federal government collect, store and share genetic information through CODIS. Initially, many states limited DNA collection to sex offenders. But today, nearly all states compel DNA from all convicted felons, while many states collect DNA from individuals convicted of mere misdemeanors. Most states also collect DNA from some individuals merely arrested on charges of, but not yet convicted of, a crime.

The Supreme Court blessed the expansion to arrests in "Maryland v. King," a narrowly divided 2013 decision, over a furious dissenting opinion by Justice Antonin Scalia, three years before his death. Justice Scalia's opinion railed against the civil rights implications of expanding CODIS in this way. The Trump administration's recent immigration policy is the latest development in a worrying trend of escalating DNA surveillance.

Despite these significant expansions in CODIS, one constant has remained: Until now, CODIS's crime-solving components have contained genetic profiles only of individuals connected with criminal activity, whether accused or convicted. Now, for the first time, CODIS will warehouse the genetic data of people who have not been accused of any crime, for crime detection purposes.