Seizing the gene

The FBI’s new DNA collection policy is both inappropriate and ineffective.

Saturday, The New York Times reported on a shift in the FBIâÄôs DNA collection policy that will vastly increase the size of law enforcement databases. The FBI will now collect samples from people who have been âÄúarrested or detained but not yet convicted.âÄù Although proponents would characterize this as a means to ensure justice, the truth is that the benefits of this policy are questionable, and its execution requires the unwarranted violation of our rights. Since the FBI already gathers DNA from convicts to help catch recidivists, the policy would presumably only help in preventing wrongful conviction, but this does not bear out. According to Stephen Saloom, policy director of the Innocence Project, an organization that has exonerated 237 men on post-conviction DNA testing, less than 5 percent of cases involve DNA evidence that can 100 percent prove innocence or guilt. Even in cases where DNA evidence is strong, an acquittal can be prevented by the caprice of the justice system. In the Duke lacrosse rape case, District Attorney Mike Nifong withheld DNA evidence from the defense that exonerated the defendants. Successful use of DNA evidence also requires law enforcement to actually test the DNA âÄî a notion the police forces like the LAPD apparently donâÄôt understand. In an article from March 31, Los Angeles Times reported that 10,000 samples of genetic material collected from rape victims have been left untested by Los Angeles law enforcement. We imagine it would be difficult to defend yourself with DNA evidence if it were not available to your lawyer. While unhelpful at best, the worst part of this policy is its potential abuse. While not useful with current technology, information gathered during these tests has the potential to be misused as genetic science progresses. Given the governmentâÄôs record in handling domestic surveillance, we should consider the consequences of forcing the accused to surrender the privacy of their genes.