Arrested in Washington? Give us your DNA!

By eapter at 5:04 pm on February 5, 2009 | 2 Comments

As I found on Slashdot, a controversial piece of legislation is being considered that would allow for the collection of DNA from arrested persons. The DNA may be collected prior to the arrested person being charged with a crime, and the arrest can be for crimes as minor as shoplifting. The DNA would be sent to State Patrol and FBI databases, where it would be compared against DNA collected in unsolved crimes. If the person who was arrested is not charged, is not convicted, or has her conviction overthrown, her DNA would be destroyed.

Proponents argue that collecting DNA upon arrest would increase public safety, and that DNA collection is not intrinsically more invasive than fingerprinting and photographing, both of which are done routinely upon arrest. Opponents counter that DNA collection is more invasive than the other information and that collection of DNA upon arrest inverts the assumption of innocent-until-proven-guilty. Moreover, many people who are arrested are never charged, let alone convicted.

This legislation is being considered in part because it has been adopted in 12 other states. This provides a sort of precedent that may make the law more appealing to some. Similarly, the public is very aware of the existence of DNA evidence (thank you CSI). Combined with the fact that crimes are committed, this prompts some people to advocate for increased public safety, and they view this measure as an appropriate means of achieving this goal.

This legislation is a prime example of two social assets that seem to frequently conflict: 1) individual rights (especially privacy) and 2) safety. It is debatable which one is actually better for security. Preferring an individuals rights does not give the police additional information that they would otherwise lack. This protects the assets of those who are arrested, since they are presumed innocent until proven guilty. However, if this person is going to commit (or has already committed) other crimes the police may lack the information needed to intervene. Preferring safety gives the police additional information, which may allow them to intervene in a timely manner but does not protect the arrested person’s individual rights.

I expect that the response to this issue in the general public will be generally divided, but that most will support the legislation. I suspect that the majority of the people in this class will oppose it. I know that I oppose it. I think that it is a costly, ineffective, and unconstitutional reaction caused by public fear.

Filed under: Current Events,Miscellaneous,Policy2 Comments »


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    Comment by yonderin

    February 5, 2009 @ 7:51 pm

    I agree with eapter, this is a violation of an individual’s rights and presumes guilt over innocence. This country’s legal system is founded on the presumption of innocence. It’s what sets our legal system apart. Our legal system favors sending a guilty person free over convicting an innocent person, which is what makes our legal system unique.

    There has been a lot of fear since the terrorist attacks of September 11th followed by a constant flood of Bush propaganda, but we cannot succumb to this fear. Benjamin Franklin said, “Those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither…”. We must restore the Constitution and preserve the rights of our citizens.

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    Comment by millsea0

    February 6, 2009 @ 1:11 am

    I’m also going to join in on this consensus. This seems much too costly for what effect it might have, even if it didn’t breach values that are dear to American culture. As the law currently stands, upon conviction a sample of DNA is taken, to do this prior to that would infringe upon the basis of our legal system.

    I can see how the public will view this as a positive, something that will help keep them and their children safe, but sacrifices only lead to more sacrifices and we may as well hook up our LMDs (Location Monitoring Device (TM)).

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