My column for the Daily News is online. It’s called, “Don’t Expand DNA Collection.” Here you go:
It must be a brand new year when I find myself on the side of the American Civil Liberties Union, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin State Employees Union all at the same time. At issue is a proposal by Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and Gov. Scott Walker to dramatically expand the collection of DNA from the citizens of Wisconsin.
Under the current law, DNA may be collected from some criminal suspects for the purpose of evidence for a trial. After the trial and appeals, the DNA is discarded, except in the case of felons where the DNA is added to a state databank. As it is, the state DNA databank only includes convicted felons.
Walker and Van Hollen are proposing a much more expansive DNA databank. They are proposing that the DNA for everyone arrested of either a misdemeanor or a felony be collected to the state DNA databank. In other words, if you are arrested for OWI, your DNA will be permanently added to the databank. If you are arrested for disorderly conduct while protesting, your DNA will be permanently added to the databank. If you are arrested for shoplifting, your DNA will be permanently added to the databank. Your DNA would remain in the databank even if you were acquitted of the crime of which you were accused. The proposal has severe and intolerable civil liberties implications.
Before we get to the reasons to oppose this proposal based on the civil liberties considerations, let us begin with the cost. Wisconsin law enforcement currently collects roughly 12,000 DNA samples per year. Under this proposal, that number would swell more than 650 percent to about 80,000 samples per year. That comes with a cost that the AG estimates would be an additional $4.9 million per year. Of course that is just an estimate and does not include added costs for local law enforcement. To throw money at this massive expansion of the state’s DNA databank in a time of austerity is reprehensible.
The cost, however, is almost insignificant compared to the violation of civil liberties that this proposal would be. The justification for the expanded DNA collection is that it would help law enforcement solve more crimes. That is almost certainly true, but it is no justification at all. It would also make it easier for law enforcement to solve crimes if the government registered all guns, repealed the 5th Amendment, and just took DNA from everyone, even if they were not arrested for anything.
It is not the duty of citizens to abandon their rights to make it easier for the government. It is the duty of government to protect the rights of citizens. Walker and Van Hollen should understand this.
Walker and Van Hollen have both used the reasoning that collecting DNA is no different than collecting fingerprints for identification. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fingerprints can be used for little else than identification. While DNA can also be used for more accurate identification, it can also be used for much more. A person’s DNA is the entire genetic code of that person.
Scientists are just beginning to understand what DNA can tell us about a person. It can indicate or tell with certainy a person’s age, hair color, eye color and other physical characteristics. DNA has also been able to tell us if people are more prone to ADHD, obesity, Huntington’s, cancer and a host of other syndromes, diseases or predilections.
While the current proposal is being pushed as merely a simple tool for identification, once the DNA is in the database, it is there for the rest of your life. Keep that in mind as we proceed to implement a government- controlled health care system. Will a future government dip into the databank to determine health care services? Will insurance rates be determined by what your DNA says about your chances for cancer? Will DNA tell us a person’s propensity for committing a crime and justify the government initiating an active search of that person’s home?
DNA is an incredibly powerful tool that tells us a lot about a person and may someday tell us everything about that person. Putting that kind of tool into the hands of benign government today is to put a sword of tyranny into the hands of a future tyrant.
Gov. Walker and AG Van Hollen should abandon this proposal immediately and apologize for their transgression.